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Ivory Coast Rebels, Opposition End Boycott - 2004-08-09


Rebels and opposition leaders in Ivory Coast rejoined the power-sharing reconciliation government Monday, ending a four-month boycott. The reactivation of the unity government follows the signing of a new peace agreement in Accra last month.

A government musician played drums, as northern-based rebels and opposition leaders filed into the presidential palace Monday in Abidjan to attend a two-hour Cabinet meeting.

A spokesman for the presidency, Felix Djela, said the Cabinet made two decisions.

The first was to re-integrate three ministers who were fired by President Laurent Gbagbo in May, including rebel leader Guillaume Soro.

The second was to name a new government spokesman, Hubert Oulaye, who had replaced Mr. Soro as communications minister during his time away from the government.

Mr. Soro said he has high hopes for the reconciliation process.

He said rebels, known as the New Forces, are in Abidjan to ensure a better future for Ivorians.

Rebels and opposition leaders stopped attending Cabinet meetings, after a brutal security crackdown on opposition supporters in Abidjan in late March.

The opposition and the rebels agreed to return, after the president agreed to a series of political reforms last month in Accra. Among the concessions, President Gbagbo agreed to delegate more power to Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and implement constitutional changes called for in the January 2003 French-brokered accord.

Most changes must be approved by parliament before they will be implemented, but in the case of easing eligibility requirements for the presidency, the Accra accord says Mr. Gbagbo must use his constitutional powers. His supporters have interpreted this as meaning he will call for a national referendum.

If the changes go ahead, the disarmament process is due to begin October 15.

Mr. Gbagbo said debate on all the issues will start Thursday, when the government meets again, and next week when it meets twice.

Prime Minister Diarra, who has often feuded with Mr. Gbagbo, was also upbeat.

The prime minister said Ivorians are intelligent enough to solve their problems. He said Monday's meeting was like starting a new school year.

The insurgency was launched in September 2002, with rebels calling for equal rights for northerners, who are often treated as second-class citizens.

Full-scale fighting ended with the deployment of French peacekeepers several months later, but, despite their presence, gross human rights violations have taken place, both in the government-run south and the rebel-held north.