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French Defense Minister Urges Unity in Ivory Coast - 2003-09-15

Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, and the visiting French defense minister met in an effort to rekindle implementation of the peace agreement. The defense minister said earlier that French troops would deploy across the country, but only if the ongoing reconciliation process produces results.

The French minister for defense, Michele Alliot-Marie, spent the weekend in Ivory Coast visiting French forces in Abidjan, and the capital Yamoussoukro. This is her first visit to Ivory Coast since nearly 4,000 French troops came to the country for peacekeeping operations after last September's rebellion.

According to Ms. Alliot-Marie, the next stage for the French involvement in restoring stability to the former colony is the deployment of French troops to the rebel-held north of the country.

But she said such a deployment would be conditional on further advancement of the faltering reconciliation process.

Rebel forces continue to hold the northern half of Ivory Coast after a rebellion split the country in two nearly a year ago.

France has mediated a peace deal to restore stability, reconcile opponents and ultimately reunify the country with elections. But the peace process is faltering.

Announcements of appointees to the posts of the defense and security ministries failed to end a six-month stand-off when former rebels rejected the new nominees and accused President Gbagbo of breaking the peace deal by failing to consult them.

President Gbabgo responded Sunday with defiance, saying he was tired of Ivory Coast being held hostage and the use of blackmail in the political process.

The French defense minister said it is essential that the situation in Ivory Coast is totally stabilized in time for presidential elections to take place in 2005.