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Ivory Coast Rebels to Talk with Gabon President - 2004-06-30

The president of Gabon is meeting with members of the political parties and rebel movement from Ivory Coast this week in an attempt to restart the country's peace process.

The rebels, who control the northern part of Ivory Coast, are not attending talks with President Laurent Gbagbo, but they have agreed to meet with the president of Gabon, Omar Bongo.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate says talks with Mr. Gbagbo are unlikely to yield results unless he is under international pressure to implement the stalled peace agreement.

"This pressure can only come from the United Nations and from some people who have more influence in Africa like Omar Bongo, because Omar Bongo was one of the heads of state who was at the beginning and the end of the Marcoussis agreement," he said. "So, he's someone who knows what we decided in Marcoussis and he can judge about the spirit and meaning of Marcoussis. His role is very important because he's able to understand all the actors who are playing now in the Ivory Coast."

The Marcoussis agreement, named after a Paris suburb where it was signed 18 months ago, ended several months of fighting that split the country into a rebel-held north and a government loyalists' south.

The rebels say they will send a delegation to Gabon on Friday. President Bongo has already met with members of President Gbagbo's ruling party, the Ivorian Popular Front, and has extended separate invitations to each of the opposition parties to meet in Gabon's capital, Libreville.

Meanwhile Mr. Gbago and opposition leaders are meeting in Abidjan to find a way to revive the peace process.

The two sides have not met since March when government forces brutally suppressed a peace demonstration called by the opposition. The opposition and rebel members of the unity government pulled out of the power-sharing government and the peace process came to a halt.

The U.N. Security Council has stepped up pressure on Ivory Coast, threatening to impose sanctions unless the signatories of the peace agreement get back together to bring the peace process back on track. A Security Council delegation, on a recent visit to the region, told Ivory Coast leaders the international community is losing patience with their political wrangling and said the United Nations is not going to step in to resolve their differences.

Gabon hopes the talks in Libreville and Abidjan will lay the groundwork for a meeting that would bring all sides of the Ivory Coast peace process and West African leaders to a summit that would restart the peace process.