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Ivory Coast Rebels to Decide on Future of S. African Mediation

Northern rebels in divided Ivory Coast are discussing their future in a South African-mediated peace process that would lead to the first presidential elections since civil war split the country in half three years ago. The rebels say they no longer have confidence in the impartiality of the South African president.

Ivory Coast's New Forces rebels have called an emergency meeting in their northern stronghold, Bouake, saying they may ask the African Union and the United Nations for a new mediator to replace South African President Thabo Mbeki.

New Forces spokesman Sidiki Konate says, if South African mediation is no longer making progress towards peace, then it is time for a change.

"If we all say today that Mr. Thabo Mbeki's mediation is a problem for peace, is a problem for Ivory Coast's recovering peace, we will reject him," he said. "Why not?"

The rebels and opposition politicians have been at odds with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and South African mediators over Mr. Gbagbo's implementation of legislative changes called for in the previous peace deals. Mr. Mbeki, in a letter to participants in the process, said the changes conformed to the peace accords.

But the New Forces rebels, who control the north of the country, and the opposition, have rejected the changes as vague and open to abuse by President Gbagbo.

"The South African delegation tells us that Mr. Thabo Mbeki agrees with the determination of Mr. Gbagbo Laurent. We think it is a wrong decision," added Mr. Konate. "We have to prepare the election. But before elections, we have to solve our problems."

Leader of the opposition bloc, Djedje Mady, while not calling for Mr. Mbeki's replacement, says the South African president must move quickly to clarify his position. He says his group doesn't feel Mr. Gbagbo acted in the spirit or the letter of the latest peace deal brokered in the South African capital Pretoria earlier this year.

As part of a series of special decrees adopted earlier this year, President Gbagbo gave Ivory Coast's national statistics institute a mandate to organize elections. Mr. Mady says the body must come under the control of an electoral commission made up of all parties to the peace process.

Mr. Mady says President Mbeki must have the courage to issue clear decrees to implement the peace agreement, and not leave room for interpretation.

The presidential elections are scheduled for October 30, but virtually all the steps leading up to the elections, including the disarmament process, are running behind schedule.