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Ivory Coast Cease-Fire Effort Fails - 2002-10-05


West African diplomats left Ivory Coast's political capital Yamoussoukro Saturday after failing to get the government to sign a cease-fire agreement with rebels as scheduled.

West African ministers, who are mediating the two-week old crisis, left Yamoussoukro saying Ivory Coast officials had failed at the last minute to deliver their formal approval of the cease-fire accord. There was no immediate explanation from Ivory Coast government officials.

The mediation team, made up of high-level cabinet ministers of six west African nations, had arranged for rebels and government representatives to travel under the protection of French troops to a school north of Yamoussoukro for a signing ceremony Saturday.

Ministers waited the entire day Saturday for the government to deliver a document in which President Laurent Gbagbo would formally authorize a military officer here to sign the accord. At the end of the day, and with no document in hand, the ministers called off the signing ceremony and left the city.

Ministers said they would not speculate on why the government had not delivered its approval Saturday. Some, however, expressed frustration and surprise, saying President Gbagbo had agreed in principal to sign a cease-fire during a meeting with the west African contact group on Monday.

Mediators scheduled the signing ceremony after rebel leaders recently assured them they would support a cease-fire. The agreement, ministers said, would have committed both sides to lay down their weapons so they could begin peace negotiations.

Ministers said they would continue their efforts to broker a cease-fire, but they gave no precise date for the next attempt.

Ivory Coast rebel crisis killed hundreds since insurgents launched their initial attacks on September 19. Large sections of the north and center of the country remain under rebel control, including the second-largest city Bouake and points about 40 kilometers north of Yamoussoukro. The conflict has drawn the military involvement at the former colonial power, France, which has posted scores of troops in Yamoussoukro to protect French nationals and provide security for international mediators.

Rebels spokesmen have said it is only the presence of French troops around Yamoussoukro that has prevented them from launching an incursion to the south. The government has repeatedly threatened to launch a large-scale offensive against the rebels but has not carried out the threats.