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Ivory Coast President Finalizes Peace Proposal - 2002-12-24

The president of Ivory Coast is putting the finishing touches on a new peace plan he hopes will end the country's three-month-old civil war.

A spokesman for President Laurent Gbagbo said the new peace plan represents a break from previous proposals to end the war in Ivory Coast.

Before releasing it to the public, the Ivorian leader has sent representatives to brief U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the presidents of France, Senegal and Togo all key players in attempts to negotiate a political solution to the crisis.

Details of the proposal are sketchy, but the AFP news agency quotes government sources as saying Mr. Gbagbo is proposing an inclusive new government, and a series of national referendums on three key issues eligibility for the presidency, land ownership laws and nationality.

There has so far been no independent confirmation of the AFP report. If it is accurate, analysts say the plan is not likely to satisfy the three rebel factions, which have all called for Mr. Gbagbo to resign and hold new elections.

The rebels have refused to comment until they see the plan for themselves.

The three factions reiterated their demands Monday in a rare joint statement, issued after their leaders met in the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

The rebels also warned French troops that they will consider any future attacks on rebel forces to be "an act of war." They said if the French fire on any rebel positions, the insurgents will launch a full-scale assault on all fronts.

French troops on Saturday halted a rebel advance near the western city of Duekoue. Rebel leaders said six of their men were killed in the clashes, and they have accused the French of siding with the government.

France has insisted it will not take sides in the war in its former colony. France has deployed roughly 1,500 troops in Ivory Coast, and plans to expand its force to 2,500 in the next few weeks. Their mission is to protect foreign nationals, to enforce a tattered cease-fire and to help stabilize the country.

The rebellion began in September as a military uprising in the commercial capital Abidjan. The main rebel group now holds most of the northern half of the country. Two new rebel groups have now emerged in the West, taking control of several key cities.