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African Leaders Seek Ivory Coast Peace Solution

African leaders are trying to find a solution for peace in war-divided Ivory Coast during a private summit meeting in Ethiopia. It is believed they back extending the term of Ivory Coast's president for another year.

Top African Union officials told journalists that members of the AU Peace and Security Council support a recent West African plan in which President Laurent Gbagbo is given another one-year extension at the helm of Ivory Coast.

Seven heads of state and government held closed-door meetings to discuss the plan with Mr. Gbagbo and Ivory Coast Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

In order to ensure elections are held in the next year, the AU council is also said to want more executive powers for the prime minister. One such power would be control over the army, but a top Gbagbo official has indicated the president would not allow that.

Rebels and opposition groups in Ivory Coast are likely to judge the meeting's outcome by how strong the prime minister's powers will be.

Deputy Secretary-General Maurice Kakou, of the opposition Ivory Coast Democratic Party recently spoke with VOA.

He says the U.N. Security Council set up a political transition last year. The plan was to disarm the rebels, he says, and to identify potential voters to enable free and fair elections.

Like all opposition leaders, Kakou believes last year's U.N.-backed peace plan, which extended Mr. Gbagbo's mandate for a year, failed and a renewal would not bring new results.

The opposition has been calling for Mr. Gbagbo to leave power and for a prime minister with increased powers to govern a transitional period - a plan also backed by the rebel New Forces.

Mr. Gbagbo refuses to leave power until elections are held, maintaining these can be organized as soon as the rebels disarm.

The New Forces rebels failed to topple Mr. Gbagbo in 2002 and an ensuing civil war left them controlling northern Ivory Coast.

Another issue to be discussed is the mediation mission of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who the African Union appointed official mediator. He has come under fire by the rebels and opposition, who accuse him of siding with Mr. Gbagbo.

A few days ago top U.N. elections supervisor Gerard Stoudman indicated elections would be postponed for another full year.

The proposals will now be handed over to the U.N. Security Council, which will make a final decision on the matter.