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Annan Challenges Leaders in Ivory Coast to Find Peace - 2004-08-03

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is blaming Ivory Coast's political leaders for the country's instability, and has called on leaders to put the country's interests ahead of their personal ambitions in restoring peace. Speaking in an interview with VOA and the American cable news network CNN, Mr. Annan said the time for peace in Ivory Coast is now.

Mr. Annan did not mince his words. He laid the blame for Ivory Coast's political mess on the country's leaders and said it is up to them to restore peace and prosperity to the country.

"Messes have been cleaned up before and I don't see why we cannot clean up the mess in Ivory Coast. But, the heavy lifting has to be done by the Ivorians and the Ivorian leaders themselves," he said. "It is their responsibility and they have to put their nation and their people first and not their own personal, political ambitions. The responsibility of the leader is first and foremost to the welfare of the people and the nation. When they begin to overlook that, when they begin to act in a manner that destroys a nation, they cannot claim to be leaders."

He said Ivory Coast was once an island of stability in a turbulent region, and it can be so again.

"A nation that was an inspiration for others and a nation that welcomed all their neighbors and in some sense was a mini-economic motor, economic engine for the region - and look at the situation Cote d'Ivoire is in," he said. "It can return back to the good old days. It has potential, it has resources. What is required is political maturity, wisdom and leadership. I hope the men who are fighting to lead Cote d'Ivoire will rise to the occasion and they will demonstrate these qualities of leadership."

He spoke to VOA in Accra, Ghana, where the Ivorian leaders signed yet another peace accord, setting a timetable for the resumption of the National Reconciliation Government, disarmament and reintegration of rebel fighters and constitutional changes on eligibility of candidates in presidential elections.

The first peace agreement dates back to January 2003, but while it put an end to all-out civil war, its provisions have never been implemented and the power-sharing government in charge of the peace process collapsed last May.

Mr. Annan reminded Ivory Coast's leaders of their unfulfilled promises, and said they have to try harder this time.

"Difficult situations can be managed," he said. "It's a question of men and leadership and I'm challenging the Ivorian leaders to rise above the fray and to put their personal and selfish interests aside and work for the nation and the people."

Under the Accra peace accord, representatives from the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations in Ivory Coast will monitor developments and send progress reports to Mr. Annan every two weeks.