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Ivory Coast Peace Talks Show Little Progress - 2002-11-07

There were few signs of progress at the end of the first day of a new round of peace negotiations aimed at ending a seven-week-old rebellion in Ivory Coast.

Mediators brokering talks in Togo left the negotiations Wednesday with little progress to report, but they said the dialogue would continue.

The new round of talks between an Ivory Coast government delegation and rebels resumed on Wednesday when both sides began touching on the most critical of the issues. These include the rebels' demands for Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's resignation and new elections. The government is demanding that the rebels disarm immediately.

Both sides have repeatedly said they are not willing to compromise on the key issues. Both have vowed to resume fighting if the talks in Togo fail. Hostilities have been on hold for nearly three weeks since a cease-fire went into effect.

The two delegations reached a partial agreement during the first round of talks last week in which the government promised among other things, to push through laws granting amnesty to renegade soldiers. The insurgents agreed to allow the transit of humanitarian supplies and personnel through rebel-held areas.

Despite the agreement, rebels threatened to pull out of talks if the government did not agree to hear all of their demands. Resumption of the talks was twice postponed before the rebels returned to the table Wednesday, after mediators assured them that their grievances would be heard.

The rebel and government delegations spent much of the day Wednesday in consultations with the chief mediator, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. Togolese officials say the president called on both sides to be flexible.

Defense ministers of several West African nations met in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Wednesday, to plan the deployment of more than 1,000 West African peacekeepers in Ivory Coast in the coming days.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more displaced since fighting broke out in Ivory Coast on September 19.

West African governments have been pushing both sides to negotiate an end to the conflict quickly, fearing the hostilities may destabilize the region.

Ivory Coast is an economic anchor in the region, and a host to millions of impoverished immigrant workers from neighboring countries.

The fighting is threatening to slow the harvest and transport of cocoa the country's main export. Ivory Coast supplies more than 40 percent of the world's cocoa making it the world's top producer of the beans used to make chocolate.

Analysts say news of snags at the ongoing peace talks caused cocoa prices to climb considerably on world markets Wednesday.