Mediators, rebels sign truce to end fighting in Ivory Coast

Friday, October 18, 2002

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast -- Rebels signed a truce Thursday to end a bloody four-week rebellion in Ivory Coast and open talks with the government, mediators said.

Tuo Fozie, a rebel official, signed the cease-fire with West African mediators in the central city of Bouake, which has been in rebel hands since the uprising began Sept. 19.

"The insurgents agreed to end hostilities and accept talks with the government to redress their grievances," mediator Mohammed Ibn Chambas, one of the signatories, said upon returning to Yamoussoukro, the capital.

The government did not have a representative at the signing.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, another mediator, said President Laurent Gbagbo was expected to make a statement accepting the agreement.

There was no government confirmation on when Gbagbo might sign the truce, although he has said he accepts the mediators' peace proposals.

Details of the truce were not immediately available.

But mediators were working off a peace plan initiated by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who heads the Economic Community of West African States, a regional economic grouping. The plan provided for the end of hostilities, for talks and for re-establishment of administrative services and the flow of goods between government- and rebel-held areas.

The rebels would hold their positions during talks, Wade told The Associated Press. He said the proposals need fine-tuning, but "if we follow it step by step, we'll arrive at a deal."

In a later phase, the government and rebel leaders would open negotiations in the presence of representatives from West Africa and the international community, Wade said.

A potential sticking point was whether the rebels would be restricted to barracks -- as Gbagbo wants -- or be allowed to move freely within towns and cities they hold, one of Wade's advisers said. A copy of the document that Wade gave AP did not mention confining rebels to barracks.

The rebels indicated Sunday that they agreed "in principal" to the plan, but waited until Thursday to sign. The delay had been partly due to rebel accusations the government brought in Angolan troops to fight.

In an interview published Thursday, Gbagbo said his government bought weapons from Angolan firms but stated: "There are no Angolan soldiers here."

"We bought arms and ammunition at the beginning of this crisis. We paid, and now these arms are arriving. It's entirely private, and that's all. I don't see a problem. When it's necessary to make purchases to reinforce our capacities, we do it," the French newspaper Le Figaro quoted Gbagbo as saying.

Angola's embassy in Ivory Coast has denied that its troops were in Ivory Coast. But a European foreign minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that 500 Angolan troops are in the country.

The rebels have seized most of the northern half of Ivory Coast since launching their uprising with a coup attempt Sept. 19. Hundreds have died in the fighting.

At the core of the insurgency are 750-800 ex-soldiers, many dismissed from the army for suspected disloyalty. Their uprising gathered support from Ivorians in the north, who complain that the southern-based government treats them poorly.

The war -- and ethnic violence it is unleashing -- has caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, creating a tide of refugees that aid workers fear could spill over Ivorian borders, destabilizing other West African countries.

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