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Ivory Coast President Says No New Negotiations with Rebels

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo says new peace negotiations are not needed, while northern rebels want a new government without him. The comments were made amid preparations for another West Africa summit to help end the three-year civil war.

French media and Ivorian newspapers quoted Mr. Gbagbo as saying during the inauguration of a government building Tuesday he has finished negotiations. Mr. Gbagbo says he has done everything South African mediators have asked him to do.

This includes passing new laws that would allow more northerners to become Ivorians and to be able to vote. These, however, have yet to be implemented.

A member of his communications team, Lambert Sery Bailly, clarified Mr. Gbagbo's statement from earlier this week.

"There is no need for negotiations now. Everything they asked him to do, he has completed so why should we negotiate," he said. "What we need to negotiate now is to find a new date for the elections and that's it. As far as the issues that remain unsolved are concerned then there's no negotiations possible. The rebels have to disarm, they have to dismantle the militias and then prepare for the elections."

Mr. Gbagbo also released a letter late Tuesday that he sent to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He says he is against preparations for a new summit of ECOWAS, the regional West African grouping, saying this would be a step backwards.

Mr. Bailly says previous efforts led by ECOWAS and Ghanaian President John Kufuor all failed.

"It was the first organization that started it," he said. "In one of their resolutions they even indicated that Africans should put a force to disarm the rebels by force but they were not successful. President Kufuor, he did everything to discuss with the rebels, but he was not able to achieve anything."

The letter also accuses certain countries of ECOWAS of being part of the problem, without being explicit.

In South Africa, a spokesman for Mr. Mbeki said the United Nations has asked ECOWAS and the African Union to convene to assess the situation in Ivory Coast. He said Mr. Mbeki is ready to continue with his mediation efforts, if that is what the international community decides.

The South African statement also accused unnamed elements of not wanting peace in West Africa, especially it says, a peace mediated by and large by African themselves.

Meanwhile, a resident in the rebel-held Ivorian north, Kone Dramane, said he is now very pessimistic about the future.

"There is no hope about mediation," Mr. Dramane said. "It is very difficult. Only God can help us to have peace."

Rebels have accused South African mediator Thabo Mbeki of being biased and have asked for a new mediation team. They also want a transitional government after October 30 without Mr. Gbagbo when his five-year mandate expires.

All sides agree the scheduled October 30 poll date needs to be pushed back, but rebels say a long time is needed to make sure elections are well organized, while the president's team says it should just be a matter of a few months and that the current reconciliation government with Mr. Gbagbo should stay on.