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Reports of New Fighting in Ivory Coast - 2003-04-10

There are news reports of fighting in Ivory Coast, which threatens the peace process, as a reconciliation government prepares to begin work.

Rebel leaders are threatening to pull out of Ivory Coast's new power-sharing government, which was set up as part of a deal to end a six-month war.

The rebels accuse government forces of using helicopter gunships this week to attack their positions in the west of Ivory Coast, where fighting and raids by mercenaries from neighboring Liberia have continued, despite the signing of a peace agreement in January.

The government of President Laurent Gbagbo said Wednesday it had dispatched a force of 500 soldiers to attack what it described as uncontrolled elements of rebel groups. Witnesses said government troops aided by mercenaries were fighting to capture the strategic western town of Zouan-Hounien.

The west is home to two of the three insurgent factions that fought to depose Mr. Gbagbo. All three groups signed on to a French-mediated peace agreement, and have joined the reconciliation government. Nine rebels have been granted ministerial posts.

The new administration has been slow to begin its work. The rebel leaders this week refused to take up their posts, citing concerns over their security in Abidjan, where President Gbagbo has a strong following.

The rebels want their security to be provided by members of their forces, not by loyalist soldiers or police officers.

Insurgent leaders have warned Mr. Gbagbo they will not assume their functions as long as loyalist forces continue their assaults.