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Ivory Coast: UN Mission Calls on Rebels to End Boycott - 2003-12-18

The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast has called on rebels to end a three-month boycott of the power-sharing government. The call was made as tensions ease between the military and the rebels, but a peace deal signed in January remains unfulfilled.

Special U.N. envoy Albert Tevoedjre says he pleaded with rebels to rejoin the reconciliation government during talks with their political leaders in Abidjan Wednesday. "We insist upon them to rejoin the government of reconciliation and we very much hope that after our discussions, after all our mediation efforts, they would finally agree to come back to work with the government," he says.

Northern-based rebels say they will meet Monday in their stronghold of Bouake to discuss a possible end to their boycott. They are still demanding assurances that reconciliation Prime Minister Seydou Diarra will be given full powers to implement the stalled January peace accord.

That would include giving voting rights to many northerners now considered immigrants in time for them to vote in elections scheduled for 2005. The rebels accuse President Laurent Gbagbo of blocking implementation of the deal, because they say he is afraid of losing power.

Mr. Gbagbo has said rebels must first disarm, before the deal can be implemented. On Wednesday, Mr. Gbagbo chaired a meeting between rebel military leaders and army commanders.

The Ivorian president said he believes the end of the war is approaching. He also said he would go to rebel headquarters in Bouake before the end of the year to declare the end of the war.

Rebels said they were surprised by this announcement, and that nothing has been done to prepare for such a visit.

Rebel and military leaders have said they have been pulling back heavy weaponry from front lines and dismantling barricades in areas under their control as part of an agreement reached earlier this month.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since the insurgency began in September of last year.