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Ivorian Rebels to Attend Paris Talks - 2003-01-11

One day after announcing a boycott of peace negotiations in France, a rebel group in Ivory Coast says it will attend the talks after all. The announcement has renewed hopes of finding a peaceful solution to nearly four months of rebellion in the West African country.

The Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West, one of three rebel factions waging war on the Ivory Coast government, said Saturday it has decided to attend the French-brokered talks, due to begin in Paris on Wednesday.

The group had one day earlier said it would not take part in the negotiations, after it said government forces had attacked three western towns on Thursday and Friday.

French officers late Friday confirmed the attacks had taken place. A French army spokesman on Saturday told VOA, a team of French soldiers dispatched to the region to investigate had reported there were civilian casualties.

Rebels claim at least 15 people were killed when army helicopter gunships fired on the western town of Grabo Thursday. Other loyalist forces attacked the towns of Toulepleu and Blolekin on Friday.

The leader of the western faction that earlier announced a boycott said he would likely be personally attending the talks.

Aside from the rebels, the meeting in Paris will bring together the heads of Ivory Coast's main political parties, including that of President Laurent Gbagbo.

The Ivorian leader has not yet confirmed whether he will attend the opening session on Wednesday. Members of his government, including his prime minister, have said they will attend.

The insurrection in Ivory Coast began with a failed coup attempt last September, and has left the once-stable West African country divided, with most of the territory now under rebel control.

All three rebel groups are demanding the resignation of President Gbagbo. The Ivorian leader insists he will serve through his term, which expires in 2005.

France, which has large economic interests in its former colony, has deployed more than 2,000 troops to protect the tens of thousands of French nationals who live in the country.