Ivory Coast rebels may sign cease-fire

Sunday, January 12, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Western rebels reversed their decision to pull out of peace talks set for next week in Paris, saying Saturday they would attend despite what they said were continuing government attacks.

Rebel Sgt. Felix Doh also said he would sign a countrywide cease-fire in advance of the talks.

Doh's Ivorian Popular Movement of the Greater West offered no immediate explanation for its change of heart.

Under French pressure, the western rebels and government agreed last week to suspend hostilities as a prelude to formally joining the cease-fire accord and peace talks. France set the talks for Wednesday in Paris.

When fighting flared in the west at the close of the week, western rebels blamed the government and said Friday they were pulling out of peace talks as a result. The government claimed the rebels had started the new fighting.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital and one of West Africa's economic hubs, military authorities announced they were easing a curfew in place since the crisis broke out in September. Curfew now would start at 9 p.m., instead of 7 p.m., authorities said.

Ivory Coast's war erupted Sept. 19 with a failed coup attempt in Abidjan. Rebels based in the north immediately seized the northern half of the country. The October cease-fire has helped quell, but not end, fighting there.

The conflict has killed hundreds and uprooted tens of thousands of civilians.

Rebels demand the ouster of President Laurent Gbagbo, accusing the southern-based government of fanning ethnic tensions.

More than 2,000 French troops have deployed to try to protect foreigners and uphold the often-violated cease-fire in the former French colony. A West African peacekeeping deployment, repeatedly delayed, is scheduled now to start in coming days.

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