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Ivory Coast Rebels Await President's Decision on Peace Deal - 2003-02-07

Rebels in Ivory Coast are meeting for a second day, as they await word from President Laurent Gbagbo about whether he will implement a peace accord.

The Ivorian leader is due to give a much-awaited speech late Friday, in which he is expected to say whether he will implement a peace agreement. The accord was reached among the government, rebels, and opposition parties two weeks ago at talks outside Paris.

President Gbagbo publicly accepted the accord in France, triggering almost daily massive demonstrations by his supporters in Abidjan, who said the deal gives too many concessions to the rebels. The protesters, who went on violent rampages and threatened foreigners, said France, the former colonial power, had forced the accord on the Ivorian government.

The deal grants rebels key positions in the government, a prospect Mr. Gbagbo's supporters reject.

Leaders of all three of Ivory Coast's rebel factions met for a second day Friday in the western rebel-held city of Man. The insurgents have been discussing whether to give President Gbagbo more time to implement the accord, or re-launch their attacks.

Fighting has been on hold due to cease-fire agreements that are being monitored by thousands of French troops. Hundreds more are due to arrive in the coming days.

Officials with the main insurgent group, the northern-based Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, on Friday told VOA they will not re-negotiate the agreement. They said they are ready to resume fighting, if Mr. Gbagbo backs out on all, or part of the accord.

In an interview with French radio on Friday, the president's wife, Simone Gbagbo, said her husband would likely reject some elements of the agreement. Mrs. Gbagbo is an influential politician and member of the president's Ivorian Popular Front party.

The conflict, which began with a failed coup attempt in September, has plunged Ivory Coast - the world's largest producer of cocoa and an important business center in West Africa - into chaos.

The war has killed hundreds and displaced thousands. About half the country remains under rebel control.

Thousands of foreigners have fled recently, amid fears of renewed violence.