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Ivory Coast President Boosts Support of New Unity Government - 2003-03-26

Government sources in Ivory Coast say President Laurent Gbagbo has signed a decree naming interim defense and interior ministers in a new unity government. The move is seen as another step toward ending a rebel war in the West African country.

Sources in the Gbagbo government said the president signed the decree, giving the Ministry of Defense to former Water and Forestry Minister Adou Assoa, a member of his Ivorian Popular Front party.

The Interior Ministry went to former Minister of Higher Education Fofana Zemogo, a member of the opposition Rally of the Republicans party.

Officials said both nominations were interim, not permanent.

The two ministries had been claimed by rebels who have been waging a war for six months against the government. The insurgents had insisted that the posts had been promised to them under the terms of a peace agreement reached by all sides in France in January.

Rebels with the main group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, gave up their claim to the ministries during recent peace talks in neighboring Ghana.

The agreement reached in France called for the formation of a new coalition government that would be made up of members of the ruling party, opposition parties, and rebels.

The government has been named, but has yet to begin work.

Rebels who occupy most of the north and west of the country have yet to put down their weapons and come to the seat of government in Abidjan, saying the Gbagbo administration has not provided enough guarantees for their safety.

A U.N. special envoy Albert Tevoedjre was meeting with MPCI leaders in the rebel stronghold city of Bouake for discussions on their integration into the government.

The rebellion, which began last September, has claimed hundreds of lives and devastated the economy of Ivory Coast the world's top cocoa producer and a longtime haven of stability in West Africa.