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African Summit Endorses Ivory Coast Peace Plan - 2003-02-04

The 53-member African Union has endorsed the controversial peace accord aimed at ending Ivory Coast's nearly five-month-long civil war.

The chairman of the African Union, South African President Thabo Mbeki says the African Union supports the French-mediated peace deal, reached last month between the government of Laurent Gbagbo and rebel groups. The January 24th accord puts the government and rebels in a power-sharing administration until elections can be held in 2005.

Mr. Mbeki says, "The summit agreed we should endorse the agreement that was arrived at by the Ivorian parties and the rebels when they met in France, the Marcoussis agreement. The summit agreed that that provided the basis for the resolution of this conflict."

Tens-of-thousands of Ivorians in the south of the country have denounced the accord and have staged violent protests against France, the West African nation's former colonial ruler. They accuse the French of forcing Mr. Gbagbo to give too much power to the rebels.

President Gbagbo, who did not attend the summit, has not yet indicated whether he plans to abide by the peace deal. Mr. Mbeki says some adjustments may have to be made in order to make it acceptable to everyone. But he insists the accord must provide the framework for all future negotiations.

On Tuesday, the Ivorian rebels said there can be no changes to the agreement.

The South African leader also urged African Union member states to quickly ratify the new African Union Peace and Security Council, a body that would have the power to intervene in conflicts. Only Algeria has ratified the protocol that is needed to set up the council.

Mr. Mbeki dismisses fears that the African Union will end up largely powerless, like its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity. The 39 year-old body was dismantled last July amid criticism that it did not have the mandate to end, among other things, some 20 civil wars raging across the continent.

He says, "It might be necessary ... for the cynics to produce some facts to substantiate their cynicism. I would think probably sometime this month, the D-R-C (Democratic Republic of Congo) will have a new transitional government, and two years after that, they will have democratic elections. I do not know how you would describe that process as being of no meaning."

Mr. Mbeki also says unarmed military observers will be sent to Burundi at the end of the month to monitor a cease-fire signed in December between the government and two main rebel groups. One rebel group has yet to sign the deal.