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Ivorian Rebels Say Interim Ministry Appointments Violate Peace Agreement - 2003-03-27


Rebels in Ivory Coast are protesting President Laurent Gbagbo's decision this week to name interim defense and interior ministers. The rebels' protests call into question whether a new reconciliation government will succeed in bringing peace to the country following a six-month civil war.

Rebels with the main group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, accused President Gbagbo of acting against the spirit of recent peace accords that were to end a rebellion that has killed hundreds since it began last September.

The accords, mediated by former colonial power France, called for the establishment of a new reconciliation government made up of members of the ruling party, the opposition, and the rebels. The government has been set up, but has yet to begin its functions.

Rebels, who were granted several ministries, have refused to leave their bases in the north and west of the country, saying they lack confidence that the government of President Gbagbo will provide them adequate security.

The rebels and others have accused the Gbagbo government of sending out what they say are death squads which have abducted and killed a number of political opponents. Mr. Gbagbo and his administration have denied responsibility for the disappearances.

For nearly a month, members of the new government have been gathering at weekly meetings in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, to discuss the formation of the new administration. Each time, the rebels have refused to attend. The latest meeting was no exception, with rebels saying they are staying away for fear of attacks by supporters of President Gbagbo.

Thousands of young supporters of the president marched on the central western city of Daloa on Wednesday. They stormed a military base where French peacekeepers have been holding a group of combatants detained during fighting this month in the rebel-held town of Bangolo.

Witnesses said the Gbagbo supporters climbed the walls of the French base and let about 30 detainees escape.

Pro-Gbagbo youths, who accuse France of favoring the rebels, have stepped up their anti-French rhetoric recently and have called for the 3,000 French troops who are in Ivory Coast to leave.

Youth activists planned to hold a demonstration Saturday outside a large military base that France maintains on the outskirts of Abidjan.