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Ivory Coast Leaders Have Slow Start to Peace Process


A high-level meeting to move forward on the stalled peace process in divided Ivory Coast has had a slow start.

Monday was a travel day for rebels coming from their headquarters in northern Ivory Coast, while political leaders traveled from Abidjan, to the site of the talks, in the central administrative capital Yamoussoukro.

By mid afternoon, and the scheduled start of the talks, only U.N. appointed Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny had arrived. Some officials said the meeting might extend into Wednesday. They pointed to logistical delays into making sure security was adequate.

Traditional drummers were present though, signaling it was a momentous occasion.

Also expected to take part were Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, the controversial and popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, former president Henri Konan Bedie, and rebel leader Guillaume Soro.

Ivorian newspapers are full of expectations saying these were the first talks between the principal players on Ivorian soil since the start of the conflict in late 2002. No outside mediator was taking part, leading to editorials saying finally Ivorians were trying to take matters into their own hands.

Successive peace deals have been brokered in France and African countries, to end major fighting, but fundamental issues, like giving more northerners the right to vote, remain unresolved.

A rebel spokesman, Cisse Sindou, told VOA it was a make or break moment for the country's future.

"We are going to really be truthful to each other," he said. "Either the peace process goes on or we just stop. But I think there is no time for games. The population is suffering and we have to take decisions. Either we go forward with the peace process or those who do not respect the peace process has to be known by the United Nations."

The world body has taken the lead role in overseeing recent mediation efforts. There are more than 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers, alongside 4,000 French rapid reaction forces, monitoring a shaky cease-fire and buffer zone, amid recent reports that a breakaway western rebel faction is planning to fight with government militias to reclaim part of rebel-held territory.

Elections planned for October 2005 had to be pushed back as political reforms included in peace deals were blocked by parliament, while rebels and southern militias remained armed.