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Ivory Coast Hardline Defense Minister Dismissed - 2002-10-13

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has replaced his hardline defense minister. The decision has caused confusion about the Ivorian leader's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the country's three-week-old rebellion.

The Ivorian government announcement removing Defense Minister Moise Lida Kouassi gave no reason for the change.

But political observers were quick with their interpretations.

Some say the Ivorian leader had to remove Mr. Lida because he was an obstacle to the peace process being mediated by six West African nations of the grouping called ECOWAS. The firing of Mr. Lida was one of the demands of the rebels who agreed to an ECOWAS-mediated cease-fire a week ago.

Others say President Gbagbo's action was a calculated move to bring the army under his direct control after Mr. Lida-Kouassi failed last week to recapture the rebel-held central city of Bouake. They note that a junior minister has been appointed to take charge of defense and civil protection, but he must take his instructions directly from the president.

Ivory Coast plunged into turmoil September 19 when renegade ex-soldiers launched a coup attempt. Hundreds of people have died and thousands more have been displaced in the fighting.