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African Leaders Meet in Togo to Discuss Ivory Coast Conflict - 2003-01-20

Leaders of several African nations are meeting in Togo to talk about efforts to end the four-month-old rebel conflict in Ivory Coast. The leaders gathering in Togo are from countries that make up a West African contact group that has been working to broker peace in Ivory Coast.

The presidents of Benin, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger and Nigeria were invited by Togolese leader Gnassingbe Eyadema for a briefing on how negotiations are going outside Paris among the Ivory Coast government, the rebels and political parties.

The same African leaders are due to travel to France later this week for a summit that is planned following the Paris negotiations.

On the agenda of Monday's meeting in Togo was also a discussion on the role of the hundreds of West African peacekeepers who are being deployed to help enforce a cease-fire in Ivory Coast. More than 170 Senegalese troops arrived in the country on Saturday and have begun taking positions alongside French peacekeepers, who have been deployed for several months.

Meanwhile, tensions were high in the main Ivory Coast city, Abidjan, on Monday after the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, the largest of three rebel groups, called on its supporters to hold an anti-government march in the city on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the northern-based group, Antoine Beugre, told VOA that the insurgents' aim is to show President Laurent Gbagbo that they have support in the main city, which is under government control, and not just at their bases behind rebel lines.

Ivory Coast's defense minister warned the group's supporters not to march, saying any gathering called by the rebel group would be considered illegal and would be put down.