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Ivory Coast Truce May Signal Peace

October 18, 2002

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YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Hopes for peace in Ivory Coast rose Friday after rebels and the government agreed to a truce to end a month of fighting that killed hundreds. There were conflicting reports, however, about whether the cease-fire was holding.

Boosting prospects for peace, France said it agreed to a request by President Laurent Gbagbo that French forces in the Ivory Coast help monitor the cease-fire.

But a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stopped short of saying that French troops would act as a buffer between rebel and government lines or help re-establish government authority in rebel-held zones _ as Gbagbo also requested.

French troops would be part of a ``mission of observation and securing the cease-fire,″ said ministry spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo Di Borgo. But she added: ``Modalities remain to be defined.″

She also said ECOWAS, a regional grouping of West African states that helped broker the truce, is expected to mount its own operation starting next week to monitor the cease-fire.

There were conflicting signs of whether peace was taking hold after four weeks of fighting.

A spokesman for the French army in Ivory Coast, Capt. Valery Putz, said he was unaware of any cease-fire violations since it went into effect.

``As far as I know it was peaceful overnight,″ he said.

But an Ivorian army spokesman, Col. Jules Yao Yao, said rebels attacked government positions in the east and west of the country ``in spite of the cease-fire.″ The claim could not be immediately verified.

``We reserve the right to return fire in the face of attacks from the insurgents in these zones,″ Yao Yao said.

The uprising started with a bloody coup attempt Sept. 19 and unleashed fighting and ethnic hatreds that caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The rebellion wrecked Ivory Coast’s image as an oasis of stability in turbulent West Africa, and worried neighboring African nations that view Ivory Coast as a regional economic powerhouse.

West African mediators finally convinced rebels on Thursday to sign a truce. At midnight, as the cease-fire was scheduled to going into effect, Gbagbo appeared on national television Fridayt to say that he, too, accepted ``the framework of this accord as a basis for negotiation.″

``I had asked them to put down their weapons,″ Gbagbo said of the rebels. ``That they signed this agreement shows they’ve understood this.″

Gbagbo said he asked France to monitor the rebels and re-establish government authority in regions they control until ECOWAS _ the Economic Community of West African States _ can disarm them. ECOWAS leaders are expected to meet next week to discuss how to push forward Ivory Coast peace efforts.

France has about 1,000 troops in Ivory Coast, its former colony, to protect French and other foreign nationals and to provide logistical support for government forces against the rebels.

Already Friday, there were early signs that the French might be trying to make the cease-fire stick.

Government soldiers said French forces told them they would not let any military traffic _ either government or rebel _ use the main road west out of Yamoussoukro, the capital, to the southwestern city of Daloa.

French forces manning a village checkpoint outside Yamoussoukro turned back at least one Ivorian army pickup truck, telling soldiers inside they did not have the necessary papers to travel on the Daloa road.

Putz, the French army spokesman, said he was unaware of French troops turning back all military traffic on that road.

``Our mission has not changed over the last three weeks. If the French government gives a favorable response to President Gbagbo’s request, the French Army will do what it is asked to do,″ he said.

The rebels are centered around a core of soldiers who were dismissed from the Ivorian army for suspected disloyalty. They have seized half the country since the coup attempt, gathering support from Ivorians in the north, who feel ill-treated by the country’s southern-based government.

Mediators who brokered the cease-fire said the rebels agreed to end hostilities, opened talks with the government and allow badly needed food supplies to reach cities they control.

No government representative signed. But Gbagbo said he accepted the deal and sounded a conciliatory tone. ``Come back into the republic, the Ivory Coast is waiting for you. Let’s talk,″ he said to the rebels in his television address.

Gbagbo also said, however, that he ordered government forces to maintain their positions for now.

``When we want peace, we have to prepare for war,″ he said.

West African mediators warned that peace might not come straight away.

``Everything will not be perfect,″ said Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio. ``There will be perhaps some incidents here and there, but we are optimistic.″

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