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Ivory Coast Rebels Reaffirm Intention to Continue with Peace Talks - 2002-11-17

Negotiations to end Ivory Coast's two month rebellion are pressing ahead in Togo, despite earlier remarks by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who had reported the talks had deadlocked.

Rebels and government officials who have been holding talks in the Togolese capital, Lome, for nearly three weeks reaffirmed Sunday that they intend to continue peace efforts, regardless of how long it takes to reach an accord.

The negotiators on both sides reacted angrily to comments made Friday by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who said it appeared the talks had collapsed. Speaking during a visit to Paris, the Senegalese leader suggested that a new mediation effort be launched.

The negotiations are being brokered by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema.

In remarks to journalists, Ivory Coast rebels and government officials said the mere fact that they were still in Lome indicated the talks had not collapsed.

President Wade, who heads the regional grouping, the Economic Community of West African States, on Saturday retracted his earlier comment, saying he believed the peace efforts in Lome had thus far been successful.

Both rebels and government negotiators have expressed frustration over the slow pace of talks. So far, only a partial accord has been reached, addressing the rebels' military demands.

The toughest issues, the rebels' political demands, have yet to be resolved. Rebels last week rejected the draft of a peace deal that called for the insurgents' disarmament. Rebel leaders also said the draft did not meet their top demand, their call for President Laurent Gbagbo's resignation.

Despite the obstacles and the slow pace of the talks, both sides expressed their willingness to keep negotiating to end the conflict, which has killed hundreds and left Ivory Coast divided.

On Saturday, the rebel and government delegations joined together at a ceremony in Lome to pray for peace.