Insurgents warn French troops to withdraw

Friday, February 14, 2003

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Rebels on Thursday issued their second warning this week that they would resume fighting if President Laurent Gbagbo does not live up to the West African nation's peace accord and include them in a new national government.

The power-sharing government is a key part of a Jan. 24 peace accord negotiated in Marcoussis, France, after more than four months of crippling war in the world's largest cocoa producer.

Guillaume Soro, the leader of the Patriotic Movement of the Ivory Coast, has warned France, which has more than 3,000 soldiers in Ivory Coast protecting foreign nationals and helping enforce a shaky cease-fire, to withdraw its troops or risk getting caught in the fighting.

French troops are blocking the main roads to Abidjan.

French army spokesman Maj. Frederic Thomazo said the French troops and a smaller number of West African peacekeepers would remain.

Last week, Gbagbo urged his supporters -- many of whom reject the peace deal -- to accept the "spirit of the accord." But he rejected the possibility of disarming the military and said the composition of the new government had not been worked out.

Rebels seized more than half of the country in fighting that killed hundreds and displaced more than 1 million.

Representatives of all three of Ivory Coast's rebel movements planned to hold talks Friday with the country's new prime minister Seydou Diarra in Accra, Ghana. Diarra was chosen prime minister under the peace accord.

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