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Ivory Coast Rebel Leader Rejoins Power-Sharing Government - 2004-01-13

The main rebel leader in Ivory Coast has rejoined a power-sharing government and called for reconciliation, despite differences with the president on how to implement their stalled peace deal.

Rebel political leader and Guillaume Soro returned to his government seat as Communications Minister Tuesday, as discussions resumed on implementing a stalled year-old peace accord.

Other rebel leaders took part in similar meetings last week after a nearly four-month boycott, but Mr. Soro was not among them.

On Monday, Mr. Soro said he was also rejoining the government to help make 2004 peaceful. He warned all parties must act in what he called sincerity and frankness. He spoke after meeting with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Soro also pointed out that he still disagrees with Mr. Gbagbo on the key issue of how to implement the peace accord. The agreement provides for the granting of citizenship, land ownership rights and the right to run for president to many northerners now considered immigrants.

Mr. Soro said the deal calls for just one referendum on the issue of the eligibility criteria for the presidency, while Mr. Gbagbo has said referendums could be held on all three issues.

Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has been divided in two since the insurgency by northern-based rebels began in September 2002.

Major fighting ended several weeks later with the deployment of 4,000 peacekeepers from the former colonial power, France.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is now calling for the deployment of several thousand new U.N. peacekeepers to help move along a disarmament process, which has also been bogged down in discussions.

Presidential elections are scheduled for 2005. At issue is whether opposition leader and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara will be able to run. Mr. Ouattara, who is extremely popular among northerners, has been barred from recent elections because of questions raised by the government about his nationality.