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New Agreement Could End Ivory Coast Fighting - 2003-01-24

An agreement has been reached that could end Ivory Coast's four month old civil war. Negotiators for the government, rebel factions and the political opposition agreed on a power sharing arrangement in the early hours of Friday morning, after eight days of closed-door talks. The accord does not yet have the approval of the Ivorian President.

President Laurent Gbagbo's spokesman welcomed the agreement, but said the final word on the accord lies with Mr. Gbagbo and the Ivorian people.

Mr. Gbagbo, who will lose a substantial amount of power under the deal, meets with President Jacques Chirac in Paris later on Friday and then with other West African heads of state on Saturday. He is expected to come under pressure in both meetings to accept the agreement.

The accord calls for creation of a Government of National Reconciliation that will include the rebel factions and opposition politicians. Mr. Gbagbo will remain in office, but most of the authority will be in the hands of a prime minister, who will be selected by consensus. The new government will plan free and fair elections, and will decide when they will be held. The prime minister will not be eligible to run for president.

The rebels, who dropped their demand for Mr. Gbagbo's resignation and immediate elections, are to disarm, and their fighters are to be incorporated into a new Ivorian army, which will receive French assistance.

A source close to the talks told the French news agency that a procedure for enforcing the agreement has been worked out, including the incentive of international aid and the threat of United Nations sanctions if the accord is violated.

The civil war has cut Ivory Coast in two, with the rebels controlling the north and west. Fighting has continued despite the peace talks and a ceasefire. The war has killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands, and threatened the stability of the entire west African region.