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Ivory Coast Cease-Fire Violation Complicates Paris Peace Talks - 2003-01-17

The Paris peace talks between Ivory Coast's government and rebels have been complicated by claims from each side that the other is violating a cease-fire. There is agreement among the Ivory Coast factions that fighting took place Thursday in the town of Blolequin, involving government troops and rebels of the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West. There is disagreement about who started it.

The rebel faction's representative at the talks outside Paris, Felix Doh, told the French news agency that government forces attacked his men. The government of President Laurent Gbagbo, in a statement issued in Abidjan, said the rebels had fired on a government position.

The spokesman for the French peacekeepers in Ivory Coast said there had been only skirmishing that did not add up to a cease-fire violation.

Inside the closed-door talks, the verbal skirmishes continued. Sources say the discussions have been more than frank. A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry declined to categorize the talks or the atmosphere, but said the representatives of the government, political parties and rebel groups were discussing nationality issues, land ownership, and the status of foreigners, who make up a third of Ivory Coast's population.

A French source told the news agency that a major stumbling block has been the rebels' insistence that new elections be held, the government has refused to consider that.

The talks will continue through Saturday and Sunday in an effort to reach agreement by January 24. The Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, is expected to join the negotiations on Sunday. Mr. Wade is the head of ECOWAS, the West African economic community. ECOWAS and the French have been trying to broker an end to the four-month old civil war.