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West African Leaders Hope Negotiation Will End Ivory Coast Crisis - 2002-09-30

Officials of the Economic Community of West African States say they hope to open immediate negotiations between the Ivory Coast government and rebels to end a 12-day-old crisis.

Leaders of West African nations said they hoped negotiations would soon get under way to end the crisis, which began September 19 when renegade soldiers attacked several cities and towns in Ivory Coast.

The government has announced on several occasions that its forces are about to attack areas of the north and center of the country that are under rebel control. But those attacks have largely not been carried out.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States met Sunday in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, and agreed to deploy a multi-national force of peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast. The troops whose numbers would be in the thousands, would remain on standby while ECOWAS officials mediate talks between the government and the rebels.

ECOWAS officials say the peacekeeping force would intervene only if mediation efforts failed.

Speaking in Abidjan after returning from the Accra summit, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo did not mention possible negotiations with the rebels, but said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

Rebel spokesmen told VOA they were open to negotiations, but they have seen no signs of talks getting started. The head of ECOWAS, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, said Sunday the peacekeeping troops would begin deploying immediately.

The decision to deploy troops has caused unease among some human rights advocates. They charge the ECOWAS' peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG, does not have a good record in some previous missions.

Ted Azuma is with the Ivorian Movement for the Defense of Human Rights. If they cannot take care of human rights, they should not come. "We will ask that any force present here, take care of human rights whatever they are doing. Some reports from Sierra Leone, and also from Liberia, are not really in favor of the integration of ECOMOG [peacekeeping forces] in our country," he said.

Every day since the rebellion began, government officials have broadcast messages accusing an unnamed foreign country of instigating the rebellion. And officials have called for citizens to report those they suspect of working for the rebels.

Human Rights groups say that approach has led to rising attacks on Ivory Coast's large community of immigrant workers from Burkina Faso, many of whom have had their shanty homes burned by security forces and government supporters.

On Sunday, U.S. and French troops evacuated a group of foreigners from the northern rebel-held town of Korhogo. Missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers and their families arrived in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, late Sunday and early Monday.

Meanwhile, the government has announced it is extending a nationwide nighttime curfew that has been in place since renegade soldiers began their attacks.