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France Urges Ivory Coast to Sign Cease-Fire With Rebels - 2002-10-07

France's foreign minister has urged Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to sign a cease-fire agreement with rebels who control a large chunk of the country. But France wants to stick to its new, non-interventionist stance.

During a radio interview in Paris Monday, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Ivory Coast must solve its current crisis through dialogue and reconciliation.

That's why, Mr. de Villepin says, it is important for Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to sign a cease-fire deal presented by mediators from West African countries. The foreign minister says France will not participate in any solution for the Ivory Coast crisis that does not involve reconciliation with all those involved.

Military rebels who launched their attack in the Ivory Coast last month now control the northern half of the country.

The rebellion has tested France's new policy of not intervening militarily in its former African colonies. But France maintains a small garrison in Ivory Coast, and its presence has apparently prevented the rebels from advancing on the country's main city, Abidjan.

In addition, more French troops were sent to Ivory Coast last week to help evacuate foreigners. And recently, France agreed to provide logistical support to Mr. Gbagbo's forces, but refused to provide other military help.

Still, Mr. de Villepin says, France remains committed to its former African colonies.

The foreign minister says France has ties, friendships and responsibilities in Africa. But he says African countries can now direct their own affairs, without outside meddling.

In spite of France's stated hands-off position, several hundred-thousand Ivorians demonstrated in Bouake this weekend against both Mr. Gbagbo and the French government. And in Abidjan, protesters attacked the offices of the French television station TV-5.