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Togo's President Optimistic About Peace Prospects in Ivory Coast - 2002-10-30

Togo's president says he is optimistic about prospects for peace in Ivory Coast following the first day of negotiations between Ivory Coast government officials and rebels.

Togolese President Ngassingbe Eyadema, the main mediator and host of the first round of peace talks, says he believes both sides are showing willingness to end the rebellion in Ivory Coast.

Delegations of both the Ivory Coast government and the rebels met at the home of the Togolese President and later at a hotel in the capital, Lome, Wednesday.

Following the first meeting, President Eyadema said it appeared to him that both sides are genuinely interested in ending the six-week-old conflict, which has killed hundreds in what was once West Africa's most stable and prosperous countries. He said that with both sides willing to talk peace, there is hope that they will take concrete steps to settle their differences.

Mr. Eyadema said, where the heart goes, the feet will follow. He said the region does not need this war. What is needed, he said, is security and stability in order to ensure development on the African continent.

Mr. Eyadema said he expected negotiations to end Thursday.

The meeting, brokered by West African mediators, is the first face-to-face contact between the two since hostilities broke in Ivory Coast out on September 19.

Among the toughest issues to resolve are the disarmament of rebels who have been holding a large section of the center and north of the country. The government of President Laurent Gbagbo has insisted that insurgents disarm before any further negotiations get under way.

The rebels say any agreement must include the holding of new elections and the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Fighting has been on hold for nearly two weeks since both sides agreed to a cease-fire brokered by West African mediators. French troops have been on the ground to monitor the cease-fire. The French forces are to be replaced in the coming weeks by a multi-national West African force.

The rebels and foreign military sources on Wednesday said the Ivory Coast government had brought in a contingent of mercenary fighters from another African nation. A government spokesman said he could not confirm or deny the reports.