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Suspected Mercenary Dies in Northern Ivory Coast

Rebels in northern Ivory Coast say a suspected mercenary from New Zealand has died while in detention. Meanwhile talks continue in South Africa to end the two-and-half year Ivorian crisis.

Rebels say Brian Hamish Thomas Sands, 36, died Monday while in detention in the northern city of Korhogo.

A rebel spokesman, known as Soul Tousoul says the cause of death is unknown.

He says the body has been taken to main rebel headquarters in Bouake for an autopsy. Mr. Sands was captured in mid-March while approaching Bouake, where he was then visited by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but kept in rebel custody.

Rebels said they had found on him body armor, satellite navigation equipment and phone numbers of mercenary companies and supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo. They also said his passport did not contain any government-issued entry stamps. The army denied Mr. Sands was fighting for their side.

After his capture in Bouake, it is not known why Mr. Sands was moved to Korhogo, which has a reputation for lawlessness and infighting between rebel commanders.

A spokesman for the Red Cross, Kim Gordon-Bates, confirmed news of the death to VOA, but could not give more information.

"I can confirm that the authorities in the north advised of the death of Mr. Sands in the evening and we have no knowledge in the cause and that is not the sort of information we would divulge anyway," he said.

British and Canadian officials in Abidjan had been trying to secure the release of Mr. Sands on behalf of New Zealand's government, which said there were indications he may have mental health problems.

There has been evidence that Mr. Gbagbo's forces have used mercenaries, including helicopter and fighter jet pilots from South Africa and Eastern Europe.

The report of Mr. Sands' death came as rebel leaders, the opposition and President Gbagbo held a third day of talks with mediator Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria.

Rebel spokesman Soul Tousoul says so far the talks have been encouraging, but that he hopes President Gbagbo will not just make promises as he has in the past while abroad, and then ignore them while at home with the support of his army and militias.

Mr. Gbagbo has stalled implementation of successive peace deals, saying rebels should first disarm.