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Ivory Coast President Refuses Cease-fire with Rebels - 2002-10-06

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to sign a cease-fire agreement with rebels. The government's refusal came as heavy fighting resumed in rebel-held areas of the north and center of the country.

West African mediators who met with the Ivory Coast leader in Abidjan Sunday said his government stated it would not sign the agreement, because the document does not include a clause that would commit the rebels to disarm.

The delegation of ministers from six West African nations had been working for the past week to broker a cease-fire, and had received assurances from both sides that it would be signed. They had even scheduled a signing ceremony on Saturday, but called it off after the government failed to send a written authorization for its representative to sign the document.

Fighting resumed Sunday in the central city of Bouake and other rebel-held areas north of the nation's capital, Yamoussoukro.

Government forces were seen rushing reinforcements on the road north of Yamoussoukro toward Bouake and the town of Sakassou, which had also been held by rebels for several days.

Residents in Bouake reported heavy fighting in the city throughout much of the day. Witnesses said rebels were combing the city in search of what the rebels said were loyalist infiltrators.

In the town of Sakassou, about 60 kilometers north of Yamoussoukro, residents told VOA government forces had taken control after at least seven hours of heavy gunfire.

Following the government's failure to sign the cease-fire agreement, ministers of the six West African nations who are trying to mediate the crisis, said they would return to their home countries to consult with their heads of state. The ministers said they would keep up their efforts to end the crisis, which is now in its third week.

France, meanwhile, is continuing to send reinforcements to the embattled central region, where French troops have taken positions but have not directly intervened in the conflict. The French say their mandate is to protect French nationals in the country and provide logistical support to the Ivory Coast army.

Hundreds have been killed since fighting broke out in Ivory Coast on September 19. Since the initial attacks, rebels have maintained control of much of the center and north of the country and have vowed to move south to Abidjan.