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Ivorian Rebels Reject Call to Lay Down Arms - 2003-11-28

Rebel leaders in Ivory Coast Friday rejected President Laurent Gbagbo's call to lay down their arms, and accused him of hoarding arms. The rebels say both sides must disarm.

Top rebel aide Cesse Sendou says under the terms of a January Marcoussis peace agreement both the rebels and the government are obligated to lay down their arms. He says, President Gbagbo, instead of disarming, is buying more weapons.

"The Marcoussis Accord said that disarmament should be on both sides," he said. "There is no embargo on him, so he keeps buying new arms, and then talking of disarmament on the other side. If Gbagbo disarms, we're going to disarm."

On Thursday evening, President Gbagbo appeared on national television calling on the rebels, now known as the New Forces, to lay down their weapons.

Mr. Gbagbo says the war is not over, and the country remains divided. He says rebels are still armed, even after a national ceremony for disarmament took place in July.

The New Forces spokesman accuses President Gbagbo of preparing for war, not peace.

"This guy only wants war," he said. "We think he's going to attack us. We're ready for just any eventuality of combating his troops. Nevertheless, we're not going to start any war."

Ivory Coast was split in two after rebels seized the northern half of the country in a failed coup in September 2002. The January Marcoussis Accord paved the way for a government of reconciliation and a return to peace, but its implementation has hit numerous snags.

The rebels withdrew from the reconciliation government, accusing President Gbagbo of violating the peace agreement by making Cabinet appointments without consultations.

President Gbagbo himself has made contradictory statements about the Marcoussis peace plan, raising doubt about his commitment to its implementation.

Attempts by leaders of neighboring countries to get the peace process going again have produced few concrete results.