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Ivory Coast's Unity Government Holds First Meeting - 2003-03-13

Ivory Coast has a new unity government.

President Laurent Gbagbo has urged his new cabinet ministers to look to the future and lead Ivory Coast out of civil war.

Despite the absence of some key members, he said he saw the first cabinet meeting as a historic moment. He expressed his full confidence in new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and his ability to lead them.

The president wished Mr. Diarra good luck and courage in that effort.

Prime Minister Diarra told his new cabinet ministers they have much work ahead of them.

"This country is on the edge of chaos. That is what should concern us," he said.

The new unity government is designed to bring Ivory Coast out of a civil war that has lasted nearly six months.

The rebels have nine seats in the 41-member cabinet. But the main rebel faction, which controls the north of the country, did not take part in the first cabinet meeting. Neither did one of the main opposition political parties, the Rally of Republicans.

Both organizations said they were worried about the safety of their members if they had gone to Yamoussoukro.

President Gbagbo said there will be another cabinet meeting in one week, and he hopes all the missing parties will be able to attend. He said what is important is not that Ivory Cost fell, but that it has been able to pick itself up again.

There is still no word on who will be the ministers of defense and interior. The rebels last week gave up their demands they be given the key posts, breaking the deadlock that had delayed formation of the unity government. Mr. Diarra had hoped to be able to name all the new ministers at the inaugural cabinet meeting, but no names were announced for those particular jobs.