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South African Mediator Sends Ivorians Decision on Election

South Africa mediator Thabo Mbeki has sent the warring parties and opposition leaders in Ivory Coast a letter on eligibility requirements for the presidency, and is awaiting their response. The issue has been at the center of the more than two-year-long civil war in the world's leading cocoa producer.

Announcing the release of the letters, a spokesman for Mr. Mbeki said the response of the Ivorian leaders would come in the form of actions on their part.

He did not elaborate. He also did not divulge the contents of the letter.

But officials from political parties in Ivory Coast told VOA the letter said the election should be open to all candidates. They said it also indicated the constitutional council would rule on each application.

The president of the youth wing of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's party, Konate Navigue, says who is allowed to run for president does not matter anymore, as long as the elections are held on schedule in October.

"My problem is that we have to do elections and I am in campaign for my candidate. I do not have any problem with another person, another candidate because I think that I will win the election so it is not a problem for me," he said.

The constitutional council has barred popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from running in recent legislative and presidential elections, using a constitutional article, number 35, of strict nationality requirements.

Northern rebels have made it one of their aims to have Mr. Ouattara run, and they signed a new peace deal in Pretoria last week, thinking this would now be the case. They say they are fighting for northerners who are treated as foreigners.

A government minister from Mr. Ouattara's party, Zemoaga Fofana, says the former prime minister would have strong chances of winning if he is able to compete, because unlike other political leaders, he says his support cuts across geographic lines.

"Mr. Ouattara is one of the leaders who is accepted in the different parts of the country. If you go to the south, to the east or to the west, his party is present. He is not based on only ethnic groups or one religious group. He has people working for him in every tribal group existing in Cote d'Ivoire," he said.

Many Ivorians fear that if the Pretoria peace deal fails, as previous accords have, Ivory Coast could break out into all-out ethnic civil war involving competing militias and rebel factions.

Thousands of United Nations and French peacekeepers are in Ivory Coast, but their mandate has yet to be renewed. Thursday, a ceremony will take place in the rebel-held city of Bouake in an attempt to relaunch the stalled disarmament process of rebel forces and militias.