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Ivory Coast Rebels Lift Nighttime Curfew on Bouake - 2003-09-29

The rebel New Forces in Ivory Coast have lifted a nighttime curfew imposed on their stronghold city of Bouake following a period of unrest.

The New Forces leadership imposed the curfew Friday after an attempted bank robbery sparked violence that left 23 people dead. The restoration of calm has been sealed with the lifting of the overnight curfew.

Reports Saturday explained that factions from among the New Forces' former rebel fighters clashed when some tried to defend the bank and others tried to take a share of the stolen money. New Forces military chief, Colonel Soumaila Bakayoko, said it was gangsters who sparked the violence, not New Forces fighters.

French forces remain stationed in the banking area of the city, after being called on for assistance in restoring order by the New Forces leadership.

According to Colonel Bakayoko, the French forces will remain in Bouake until the security of the banks is completely guaranteed.

The violence in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second city, followed the withdrawal of the New Forces from the government of reconciliation last week, and casts another shadow over hopes for the restoration of peace and stability in the country.

In other developments, the government minister for small and medium-sized enterprises, Roger Banchi, has given a defiant newspaper interview. Mr. Banchi was dropped as New Forces ministerial representative last week for attending a cabinet meeting, after the New Forces had officially announced their withdrawal from the government of reconciliation.

In the interview, Mr. Banchi is critical of New Forces leader Guillaume Soro and appears to side with President Laurent Gbagbo.

Meanwhile, the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has postponed a program to evaluate the conditions for elections, set for 2005. The U.N. spokesperson, speaking by telephone to VOA, was unable to clarify why the mission had been delayed. No new date for the commencement of the electoral evaluation has been given.

Ivory Coast was thrown into a period of crisis after rebels seized half the country more than a year ago. Hopes of a restoration of stability under the Marcoussis Peace Agreement mediated by France in January are looking increasingly uncertain.