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EU to Withhold Ivory Coast Aid Pending Progress Toward Peace - 2003-11-14

The European Union will continue to withhold financial assistance to Ivory Coast until the country gets the shaky peace process back on track.

The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said Thursday the EU will wait until the government and rebel leaders get back to implementing peace in Ivory Coast before it will release the $465 million of promised aid money.

Mr. Prodi says the EU is ready to resume aid that was suspended three years ago. He says the money is on the table, but will not paid until Europe sees some progress towards peace.

Mr. Prodi, who came to Abidjan on his sweep through western Africa, told President Laurent Gbagbo the peace deal brokered by former colonial power France and signed last January, remains Ivory Coast's best option for restoring peace and stability.

The EU responded to the signing of the peace agreement by saying it would resume financial support to Ivory Coast. But when the deal failed to deliver stability, the EU withdrew its commitment.

A meeting of seven West African heads of state earlier this week convened to breathe new life into the peace process, proved inconclusive.

The New Forces rebels who control the northern half of the country, were brought into a government of reconciliation in March. But they dropped out several months later, accusing President Gbagbo of violating the peace agreement. Mr. Gbagbo himself has made a number of public statements recently, casting serious doubt on his commitment to the accord.

The United Nations, which sent military observers to Ivory Coast, has decided to extend and expand their mandate on the grounds that the country "continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region." The U.N. Security Council voted Thursday to increase the number of military observers and authorized them to remain in the country until February 2004.