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Ivory Coast President, Political Parties Discuss Rebel Participation in Government - 2003-02-25

Political leaders in Ivory Coast are discussing how to include rebel factions in a national unity government as international pressure increases to implement a peace accord and curb human rights abuses.

Government officials say President Laurent Gbagbo met with representatives of political parties on how to break an impasse holding up implementation of the month-old peace agreement.

The key sticking point is a demand by anti-Gbagbo rebels that they take control of the defense and interior ministries. The army and the main parties have so far blocked that proposal.

Amid the political uncertainty, the United States has added its voice to those denouncing human rights abuses in Ivory Coast.

The State Department has called for an end to extra-judicial killings and disappearances, and is demanding that Ivorian authorities bring the perpetrators to justice.

The United Nations has said death squads linked to the presidential guard are operating in Ivory Coast, but the government denies this and has accused the U.N. investigators of bias.

The European Union is also stepping up pressure on Ivory Coast to fully adopt the French-mediated peace plan signed in January.

Italian, Dutch, and European Commission representatives met Monday with President Gbagbo to press the issue.

Italian Ambassador Paolo Sannella emphasized the importance of the accord. The ambassador pointed out that the agreement was signed by all political parties. He said peace, democracy, and economic development in Ivory Coast hang in the balance.

Meanwhile, the political leader of the main rebel faction has expressed impatience over the slow pace of negotiations.

The leader of the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, Guillaume Soro, told reporters in Paris that if the new cabinet is not installed soon, the resumption of the war will be "inevitable, bloody and catastrophic."