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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 08:18 GMT
Plea to save Ivorian peace deal
President Laurent Gbagbo
Rebels do not trust President Gbagbo

The leaders of Nigeria and Ghana have visited Ivory Coast to help rescue the faltering peace process

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghana's John Kufuor urged the former rebels in Ivory Coast to resume participation in the national reconciliation government.

In a statement following a meeting with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo the two leaders said they had made suggestions on the way forward towards transparent elections in 2005.

The rebels suspended participation in the government last month, accusing President Gbagbo of trying to thwart implementation of the peace deal.

The Ivory Coast has been in crisis since an attempted coup 13 months ago, which divided the country.

Row

Rebels have said they would only return to the government if President Gbagbo stepped down, but Mr Gbagbo's supporters accuse the rebels of trying to delay disarming.

The president's right hand man, Mamadou Koulibaly, who is head of the national assembly, has called for early elections - with or without the rebels.

The rebels say they cannot disarm unless the president appoints neutral ministers of defence and security, complaining that those now in office are too close to Mr Gbagbo.

Ivorian rebel
Thousands died in the conflict

Many believe the fragile peace is only being maintained, due to the presence of some 4,000 French and West African troops, overseeing the ceasefire line between government held south, and rebel-held north.

But in recent weeks, both sides have been attacking the French, each accusing them of supporting the other.

Last week, French journalist Jean Helene was shot in the head by a policeman. Many fear this has set a dangerous precedent, and are calling for the international community to intervene before the situation gets out of control.

In an interview in the French newspaper Le Monde, former rebel leader, Ibrahim Coulibaly, said the fighters would be prepared to lay down their arms only if Ivory Coast was placed under UN supervision.

Fears

Despite the power-sharing deal, the country remains split between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.

The executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, admitted to the BBC earlier this week that they had allowed the Liberian situation to divert its attention and that the situation in Ivory Coast was now a cause for deep concern.

"It appears that while we were all focussed on Liberia, things did get out of control and we need to refocus on Ivory Coast," he said.

West African leaders are keen to see the end of conflict in Ivory Coast, which is home to millions of immigrants from surrounding countries.

Any return to hostilities could spread chaos beyond Ivory Coast's borders.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"Their meeting is crucial"



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