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Rebels Discuss Participation in Ivory Coast Government - 2003-02-23

Political leaders in Ivory Coast are discussing possible rebel participation in the government under terms of a French-mediated peace accord. Meanwhile, a rebel leader has threatened to resume fighting if the agreement is not fully implemented.

Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra returned to Abidjan to brief President Laurent Gbagbo on his just-concluded talks in Paris with opposition leaders.

Prime Minister Diarra is charged with the task of forming a national unity government under the peace deal hammered out last month in France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast.

He consulted in Paris with Guillaume Soro, rebel leader of the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, which controls the northern half of the country. Mr. Diarra also met opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and former President Henri Konan Bedie.

The talks between the prime minister and President Gbagbo were expected to focus on the allocation of Cabinet seats for the rebels in a coalition government.

Rebel leaders insist they must take over the key defense and internal security portfolios, but the army and major political parties oppose those appointments.

A commander of rebels in western Ivory Coast, Felix Doh, says his group will resume fighting, if the defense and interior ministries are not handed over.

Fighting along ethnic and religious lines broke out in Ivory Coast in September. Hundreds were killed, and nearly one million people driven from their homes. A cease-fire monitored by 3,000 French troops has been in place since the peace accord was signed.