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Ivory Coast President Urges National Dialogue - 2003-10-07

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has called on all his political rivals to take part in a national dialogue so that Ivory Coast can be reunited. He made the comment amid growing fears that a power-sharing peace deal signed with rebels in January is collapsing.

Presidential spokesman Alain Toussaint says the proposal for a national dialogue was made Monday during a meeting with signatories to the peace deal.

Mr. Toussaint said it's just an idea that was floated during the informal meeting.

But if approved, the so-called national dialogue would bring together Mr. Gbagbo's government team, leaders of all political parties, dissident rebel ministers and civilian leaders.

The spokesman for the signatories of the peace deal, Noel Nemin, welcomed the proposal.

Mr. Nemin said the Hundred Years' War - an ancient conflict between Britain and France - was elsewhere and not in Ivory Coast. He said the problem must be solved as soon as possible. The most important thing, he added, is that rebels who have controlled the north since last year disarm.

Rebels now calling themselves New Forces have suspended their participation in the power-sharing government because, they say, Mr. Gbagbo is making a mockery of the peace accord.

But two rebel ministers attended Monday's meeting. The rebels and opposition political parties brought with them a document calling on Mr. Gbagbo to share more power with his ministers, give more independence to state media and disband militias operating in the government-held south.

For its part, the ruling party issued a statement accusing all other parties of vilifying Mr. Gbagbo.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since rebels launched their insurgency in September last year. They say they want more Ivorians who come from the north, many of them immigrants, to be given voting rights.