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Ivory Coast, Liberia Army Chiefs Work on Ending Conflict Near Borders - 2003-04-30


Army chiefs from Ivory Coast and Liberia met Wednesday in Abidjan to discuss deploying forces along their border, where rebel groups have recently been fighting against each other.

Prior to the meeting, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo met with the army chiefs, and told them their talks represent an important step toward ending the seven-month conflict dividing Ivory Coast.

Presidential spokesman Toussaint Alain said the army chiefs then discussed the logistics of deploying troops in the tense region, where Liberian forces have been fighting for both sides.

The spokesman also said all Liberian mercenaries and soldiers, as well as fighters from Sierra Leone, must all go home.

In western areas, Ivorian rebels have recently clashed with foreign mercenaries that were previously their allies.

The Ivorian troops are to deploy mainly in an area of southwestern Ivory Coast, most of which remains under government control. The plan also calls for French and African peacekeeping troops to help secure the forested border region.

The Liberian troops would deploy along the border inside Liberia.

Alice Blondel, from the non-governmental organization Global Witness, says a recent investigation by her British-based group shows Liberian army forces are directly implicated in the Ivorian conflict.

"What we found was that the Liberian government has been directly supporting the MPIGO and MJP rebels in Cote d'Ivoire at least since September, October, while they were being deployed and trained in Liberia; and then they were moved into Cote d'Ivoire," she said. "The effect that the Liberian government is having in the region has been devastating for all civilians in Liberia and also for many civilians in Cote d'Ivoire as well and unfortunately there is little chance this will abate."

Liberian President Charles Taylor denies he is backing the rebels in Ivory Coast. He has accused Ivory Coast of backing rebels who are waging a civil war against his own government.

Despite their mistrust, Mr. Taylor and the Ivorian president, Mr. Gbagbo, reached the initial agreement to send forces into the tense border region on Saturday during talks in Togo.