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US Opposes UN Peacekeeping Troops in Ivory Coast - 2003-01-08

The United States said Tuesday it opposes dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force to Ivory Coast. It called on parties to the conflict there to heed terms of an October ceasefire, and said if they do, the presence of West African and French troops already there should be enough to keep the peace.

With fighting in Ivory Coast continuing and the situation complicated by the emergence of new rebel factions, there is growing talk in the region about the possible need for a U.N. force to halt the four-month-old civil conflict.

But the Bush administration says it does not consider the dispatch of U.N. peacekeepers to be "appropriate at this time" given the presence of some 2,500 French troops in Ivory Coast and the deployment now underway of 1,200 troops from the Economic Community Of West African States, ECOWAS.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that a cease-fire accord negotiated in October by ECOWAS between the Abidjan government and the main rebel group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, remains in place though the truce is fragile.

Mr. Boucher urged both main parties, as well as the rebel factions that have sprung up since the October 17th cease-fire, to abide by the terms of the truce and to cooperate fully with French-led diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, and said if that happens, the introduction of U.N. troops would not be necessary.

"The parties need to abide by their cease-fire obligations," he said. "There are actually two new rebel groups that emerged in late November. They need to adhere to a cease-fire as well. But first, the parties need to adhere to the cease-fire. Second, people need to pursue a peaceful resolution. Third, we are supporting the deployment of these West African troops who are arriving in greater numbers now. And as I said the French are also playing an important role diplomatically but also militarily. And we think with that combination of factors, a U.N. peacekeeping force is not necessary at this time."

Mr. Boucher said the United States "strongly supports" the French initiative to host a conference of Ivory Coast political leaders in Paris later this month, and a regional summit to follow in a few weeks and said the initiative offers an "excellent opportunity" to achieve a peaceful, political resolution of the conflict.

Ivory Coast has been divided into a rebel-held mainly-Muslim north and a government-controlled mostly-Christian south since rebels staged a coup attempt on September 19.

The fighting has killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands, and ruined Ivory Coast's reputation as a bulwark of regional stability. France's intervention in its former colony is described as that country's biggest military operation in Africa since the 1980's.