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Last Updated:  Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 13:39 GMT
New Ivorian cabinet shunned
Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra arrives for the talks
Prime Minister Seydou Diarra is trying to keep everyone on board

Ivory Coast's rebel groups and the main opposition party have failed to attend the first meeting of the new national unity government.

The absence of 21 of the 41 new ministers suggests that differences which sparked the six-month conflict still remain, but the main rebel group blamed logistical differences for not being there.

The names of ministers attending the meeting in the capital, Yamoussoukro, were announced, but agreement has still to be reached on who will fill the key defence and interior posts.

The main opposition party, the Rally for Republicans (RDR), said their allocated ministers would remain abroad because of security concerns, but added that they are still committed to the principle of power-sharing.

Gbagbo's FPI: 10 seats
Former ruling PDCI: 10 seats
RDR: 7 seats
Main MPCI rebels: 7 seats
Western rebels: 2 seats
Others: 5 seats

President Laurent Gbagbo told the government's first cabinet meeting, flanked by Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and Ghana's foreign minister: "I welcome this historic moment, many thought we wouldn't achieve what has been done."

In the main city, Abidjan, youths demonstrated in protest at the inclusion of rebels in the cabinet.

The rebels, who took up arms against President Gbagbo last September, control the largely Muslim north, where support is strong for the RDR.

The south remains under the control of Mr Gbagbo.


A French military helicopter was reported to have gone to the rebel stronghold of Bouake to pick up the rebels, but they stayed put.

"We have a logistical problem as not all of our ministers are in the country. Gbagbo has rejected some of our proposals and wants to impose his choices upon us," Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) spokesman Antoine Beugre was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

RDR leader Alassane Ouattara
Ouattara is popular in the rebel-controlled Muslim north
"But we're not putting into question the principle of the new government, we will take part in future cabinet meetings."

RDR leader Alassane Ouattara has been in exile for much of the conflict after his home was attacked in Abidjan.

During the rebellion, several Muslims and opposition sympathisers have been killed in government-controlled areas.

"As you know, several RDR officials, including those named to join the government of national reconciliation, are outside the country due to the numerous executions and killings of our militants and officials in recent months," Mr Ouattara wrote in a letter to new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra.

He called on Mr Diarra to take "measures to allow the ministers to take up their posts under satisfactory security conditions."

A further three ministers did not turn up due to logistical reasons, in addition to the 16 absentees from the rebels and the RDR and the still unnamed defence and interior ministers.

The inauguration of the new government has been repeatedly delayed because of arguments over which party would control the key defence and interior ministries.

A new 15-member "security council" has been agreed to over see the running of the army, the police and the para-military gendarmerie.

Hundreds of people have been killed and more than a million displaced in the conflict, which has worsened ethnic and religious rivalries in Ivory Coast.

Former colonial power France has some 3,000 peacekeepers monitoring a ceasefire and played a key role in mediating the power-sharing government.

BBC's Kate Davenport on Focus on Africa
"President Gbagbo was putting a brave face on things"

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