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Northern Rebel Group in Ivory Coast Announces New Leader - 2003-12-19

A faction of rebel fighters in the northern part of Ivory Coast has announced it has a new leader.

A group of rebels appeared on television in their stronghold of Bouake Friday, declaring Ibrahim Coulibaly, an exiled former army soldier, as their new leader.

The rebels said any decision on whether to resume participation in the power-sharing government should be made with the consent of Mr. Coulibaly. A decision on whether to rejoin the government is expected at a rebel meeting in Bouake Monday.

The renegade fighters said they were frustrated by the failure of their political leaders to implement an agreement the rebels and the government signed nearly a year ago.

Mr. Coulibaly, known as I.B., has long been suspected of being the mastermind behind the insurgency, which started in 2002 and led to the division of Ivory Coast. He himself has never admitted this.

But earlier this week, Mr. Coulibaly, who is being held in France, declared he is ready to take over leadership of the rebel movement.

The split between the political and military wings of the northern rebels and within each wing is expected to make implementation of the peace agreement even more difficult.

Leading the political wing is the communications minister in the power-sharing government, Guillaume Soro. Rebel chief of staff, Colonel Soumaila Bakayoko has been represented as the leader of the rebels' military wing, but there have been recent reports of a growing split within rebel ranks.

A member of the military wing, Abdoulaye Ouattara, says he is following developments closely, but that he does not associate himself with the breakaway group.

He says the pro-I.B. faction took control of local television on Thursday, but he does not know what its ambitions are.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since the start of the rebel insurgency last year. Attempts by regional governments to bring peace to the country have produced few visible results.