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Ivory Coast Rebels Will Not Attend Peace Talks - 2004-06-27

Leaders of the rebel group controlling the north of Ivory Coast are refusing to participate in peace talks President Laurent Gbagbo has called for this week.

Leaders of the rebel group the New Forces say they will not attend the meeting, describing it as the president's attempt to stall before launching a full-fledged war against them.

The group is part of a coalition of seven rebel and opposition groups, known in Ivory Coast as the G7.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said Sunday the New Forces leaders do not think a meeting with Mr. Gbagbo will improve the situation in Ivory Coast.

"We think that by a meeting between the G7 and Mr. Gbagbo, Laurent, we are not sure that one can find the solution to the problem because Mr. Gbagbo himself is the problem," he said.

President Gbagbo had invited the coalition of his opponents to a meeting this week in an effort to reconstitute his power-sharing government of national unity. The government, set up under a French-mediated peace accord last year, fell apart earlier this year when opposition and rebel groups walked out. They accused the president of failing to implement the peace plan.

A spokesman for Mr. Gbagbo, Seri Bahy, said the talks will proceed even if the rebels do not show up.

"The question as to whether the president and the G7 will meet, that is a fact," he said. "They have to meet. And they will talk because the government has to resume."

The main opposition parties say they will attend the upcoming talks.

Ivory Coast has been divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south since a failed coup attempt on president Gbagbo in 2002. Several thousand French and U.N. peacekeepers help maintain a cease-fire between the two.