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More Fighting Erupts in N. Ivory Coast - 2003-02-20

International pressure is mounting on Ivory Coast to implement a French-mediated peace accord. Meanwhile, there are reports of fighting in northern Ivory Coast.

Helicopter gunships from the Ivorian armed forces launched attacks on what the army said were suspected rebels in the north of the country.

An army statement said anti-government rebels had broken a cease-fire. It said a dozen troops had been wounded, three of them seriously, and one soldier was missing in action in the fighting outside of Zuenoula, about 325 kilometers northwest of Abidjan.

A spokesman for French military forces deployed in Ivory Coast confirmed the helicopter attack. But he said it was not clear if the government had fought rebels or criminals who operate in the area.

He confirmed several people had been wounded, and he said French troops were sent to the region to determine what had happened.

The fighting flared as Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo faces mounting international pressure to implement a French-brokered peace deal that would give cabinet positions to rebel leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the peace accord to be fully adopted in speeches at a Franco-African summit in Paris.

The former French colony of Ivory Coast has been ravaged since September by fighting along ethnic and religious lines. Hundreds have died in the conflict, nearly one million people have been driven from their homes and the economy has been wrecked.

Prime Minister Seydou Diarra represents Ivory Coast at the Paris summit. He has been working to form a national unity government as required by the peace accord. Diplomatic sources say Mr. Diarra had a meeting arranged in Paris with opposition leader Alassane Outtara.

The rebels are demanding the key defense and interior ministries in the power-sharing government. But President Gbagbo has resisted that demand, and major political parties oppose such an arrangement.

But there are signs the president and the army could be ready to compromise. Diplomatic sources say President Gbagbo could agree on a new cabinet with rebel representation by the end of this week.

And the army says it will accept rebels in the government, as long as they do not take over defense and interior affairs.