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Ivorian Rebels Accuse Government of Launching More Attacks - 2003-01-10

Rebels in Ivory Coast are accusing the government of launching more attacks Friday on insurgent positions in the west of the country. The reported fighting comes as Ivorians await the start of next week's peace negotiations in France.

Rebels on Friday said loyalist forces had launched attacks on the western towns of Toulepleu and Blolekin. The reported attacks came a day after the same rebel group, the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West, accused the government of launching helicopter gunship attacks on the town of Grabo, killing at least 15 people.

French army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ange-Antoine Lecchia told VOA, a team of French soldiers was dispatched Friday to investigate the reports.

He said he could not confirm that the attacks took place as reported on Thursday and Friday, since no French troops were in the area at the time. If the reports are true, he said, it would be unfortunate, because Ivory Coast needs some stability to re-launch peace negotiations and find a non-military solution to the rebel crisis.

All sides recently agreed to cease hostilities before the talks begin in Paris on Wednesday.

Reports of continued attacks by the government on rebel positions over the past few days have made many people in Ivory Coast wonder if all sides will abide by anything that is agreed in the new round of negotiations.

Richard Kehi, a young laborer in Abidjan's working-class Youpougon district, says he has trouble believing either the rebels or the government. He says he thinks it is a good thing that France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, is stepping in and hosting the negotiations.

He says the war has gone on for much too long, and something must be done to return things to normal. Mr. Kehi says he thinks it is only France at this point which can tell the rebels to put down their weapons, and allow the president to do his work.

President Laurent Gbagbo last week promised visiting French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin the army would stop air attacks, which have been largely carried out by foreign mercenaries hired by the government.

The French Foreign Ministry on Thursday reminded the Gbagbo government of its commitment to stop the air attacks ahead of next week's meeting in Paris.

The French government has been eager to end the nearly four-month-old insurrection that has killed hundreds and left the once-stable West African country divided.

More than 2,000 French troops are deployed in Ivory Coast, a former French colony, which is home to tens of thousands of French nationals.