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Annan Worried Over Stalemate in Ivory Coast - 2003-11-25

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he is worried that the current political stalemate in Ivory Coast could push the country back into conflict. West African nations are urging the world body to organize an Ivory Coast peacekeeping mission. Alarmed by the political stalemate in Ivory Coast, a delegation of senior West African officials went to the Security Council Monday to ask for help from U.N. peacekeepers.

Ivory Coast -- the world's largest cocoa producer -- was once a beacon of stability in West Africa. But civil war broke out in September, 2002 when rebels from the north mutinied against the government

The war ended last July, but the country remains sharply divided. Former rebels still hold large swaths of territory, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the council there are troubling signs that the northern provinces are degenerating into lawlessness. "I am deeply concerned by the current political stalemate, which was created by the withdrawal of the Forces Nouvelles from the Government of National Reconciliation on 23 September," he says. "Unless urgent steps are taken to resolve that impasse, the tenuous security situation in the country could deteriorate further."

Mr. Annan told the Security Council the de facto partition of Ivory Coast must be brought to an immediate end. He said he would immediately dispatch a fact-finding team to the country to assess whether a peacekeeping mission is feasible.

The Security Council made no immediate commitment. One ambassador told reporters he was not convinced that conditions are right for a peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast.

But one of the five West African foreign ministers addressing the council, Ghana's foreign minister, Nana Akufo-Addo, said he was encouraged by the tone of the council's response. "The situation in the country at the moment is very delicate, and if indeed the Security Council is to listen to the case we made, we believe the peace process in Cote d'Ivoire would benefit from it," he says. "We had a good hearing from the Security Council, and found within the body of the council, virtual unanimity in support of the ideas we have come to advance."

Mr. Akufo-Addo's delegation next travels to Washington to present its case. It is scheduled to meet several high-ranking U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.