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France Renews Effort to Salvage Ivory Coast Peace Deal - 2003-11-21

France is renewing diplomatic efforts to salvage a faltering peace deal in its former West African colony of Ivory Coast. The initiative follows recent mediation failures by west African leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac this week called on all sides in Ivory Coast to implement a power-sharing peace deal signed in France last January.

He has now sent his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, to Gabon to meet with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo on neutral ground. Mr. de Villepin is scheduled to stay in Gabon's capital, Libreville, until Saturday.

The French envoy is trying to get concessions from Mr. Gbagbo so that northern-based Ivorian rebels can be persuaded to rejoin the power-sharing government. The rebels left the government in September, accusing President Gbagbo of blocking implementation of the accord.

The party of Mr. Gbagbo says the French-brokered peace deal amounts to a constitutional coup, because it would give voting rights to many northern immigrants.

But the head of the ruling party, former Prime Minister Pascal Affi Nguessan, says he welcomes renewed French interest in helping the peace process.

Mr. Nguessan says it is important for France and the Ivorian government to work together, so that Ivory Coast can be reunited. He says the French-brokered peace deal offers a way out of the crisis.

In recent weeks, West African mediators have been trying to get Mr. Gbagbo and the rebels to resume dialogue. But they have failed to make any breakthrough.

A rebel spokesman, Cisse Sendou, says the international community, including France, needs to get more involved because, he says, they would have more of an impact.

"The international community, the French, and the U.N., they're just watching without saying anything because we've been in the process, like, nearly eight months now, and nothing moves," he said. "The accord hasn't even started to be applied. You have to have a solid government, but yet, the prime minister doesn't have any power to control the government."

Rebels also want security guarantees in the government-run south, if their leaders are to rejoin the government.

The arrival of peacekeeping troops from France ended fighting late last year, but rebels remain in control of the northern half of Ivory Coast.

Ivorian army officials said recently renewed fighting was now a possibility.