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Former Ivory Coast Army Chief Threatens Coup

Tension in Ivory Coast has increased with the former head of the army, Mathias Doue, threatening to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo if he does not step down.

In an interview broadcast Saturday on Radio France Internationale, the former General Mathias Doue called on President Laurent Gbagbo to leave office, saying it is the only way to return peace to Ivory Coast. He said if the international community did not convince Mr. Gbagbo to leave office, he would do it himself, with or without force. Mr. Doue, who is abroad at an undisclosed location, said he would return to Ivory Coast in the next few days.

The head of the Ivorian army, General Philippe Mangou, dismissed the threat, saying Mr. Doue had severed all relations with the army.

Last week, a letter attributed to Mr. Doue published in the state owned newspaper Fraternite Matin, accused Mr. Gbagbo and his backers of wanting to return Ivory Coast to war, and not being committed to the reunification of the country, which is divided into rebel held north and government controlled south.

The secretary general of the ruling FPI party, Miaka Oueto, condemned Mr. Doue as a traitor. Mr. Oueto said Mr. Doue was not just a simple soldier but the former head of the army, and put in place the system to fight against Ivory Coast's enemies, and therefore his action is high treason.

A spokesperson for the New Forces rebels, Sidiki Konate, said the group would support a coup if the sole purpose was to depose president Gbagbo. He said that the president is to blame for the civil war in Ivory Coast and for creating pro-government militias that terrorize the civilian population.

The Gbagbo government has denied it finances the militias.

In a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, parties to Ivory Coast's conflict agreed that pro-government militias would be disarmed by August 20, but that deadline passed Saturday without any significant steps toward disarmament taking place.

Mr. Konate said the rebels will not disarm until the militias do. "We cannot go today toward disarmament, because we all agree that the militias have to be first disarmed," said Mr. Konate, "because they belong to no army, and they can only bring trouble to the peace process."

In a new disarmament agreement, the three largest so-called militias in the West of the country agreed to begin disarming on Wednesday. The head of the Great West Liberation Front (FLGO), Denis Maho Glohefi, said his group is not a militia but a citizens' self-defense group.

Mr. Maho Glohefi said his group did not disarm because they were afraid of attacks by rebels, and Mr. Doue's coup threat once again puts disarmament into question. He said his group will disarm as long as the United Nations and French forces can guarantee safety in the West.