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Ivory Coast PM Rebel Leader Asks For Forgiveness, Vows Peace

The Ivory Coast rebel leader Guillaume Soro, in his first speech as prime minister of a power-sharing government, has asked all Ivorians for forgiveness, and vowed to help them reach peace. Rebels have controlled the northern half of the country, which is the world's biggest cocoa producer, since late 2002. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

During a more than 20-minute speech, Mr. Soro said he was asking for forgiveness in the name of all Ivorians.

He said Ivorians must learn to forgive and relearn to live together.

He said the time of extremism was over, and that it was now time for consensus and compromise.

He thanked Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore for brokering the latest peace deal which led to the new government with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Soro called the Burkina president a man of patience, openness and knowledge.

He also thanked African and international bodies for their assistance.

He said his government would have three priorities, giving national identity papers to all Ivorians, reunifying the country and army, and organizing transparent and fair elections, open to all. In line with peace accords, he said he would not be a candidate for the twice delayed presidential election.

He said he would issue a roadmap for peace but that deadlines were not important in the sake of establishing lasting peace.

Rebels took up arms in late 2002 saying they were fighting for many northern Ivorians who are treated as foreigners, persecuted by security forces and without basic rights.

Mr. Soro said inertia only led to destruction and misery, which is why, because he loves Ivory Coast, he says he decided to move ahead with the peace process despite previous deals that quickly collapsed.

He said he would also try to rehabilitate Ivory Coast with international lenders and businesses, and open a social dialogue with workers and frustrated youths.

Mr. Soro called on media which has often been filled with hate speech to become more professional and work for the interests of the country rather than against it.

Monday, a ceremony is due to be held to mark efforts to eliminate the U.N and French patrolled buffer zone between the government-run south and rebel held north.

Meetings are also scheduled Monday to launch an integrated command center between government soldiers and rebel fighters.