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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 21:20 GMT
Breakthrough in Ivory Coast
Protesters outside Gbagbo's home in Abidjan
Protesters briefly detained the French foreign minister
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to French demands that all foreign mercenaries must leave the country and that the government must ground its helicopter gunships.

MEDIATION ATTEMPT
Dominique de Villepin
Nothing but dialogue will work

Dominique de Villepin
French Foreign Minister
He made the promise following a meeting with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, with whom he has been holding crisis talks in an attempt to resolve the country's four-month civil war.

Mr de Villepin said that France will host a meeting of all Ivory Coast political parties on 15 January in Paris in an attempt to resolve the country's four-month civil war.

The country's tentative ceasefire between government and rebel forces was severely strained after an attack on a rebel-held village this week by a government helicopter gunship which left 12 civilians dead.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent, Paul Welsh, says Mr de Villepin will visit the country's main rebel group, the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI), in its stronghold in Bouake on Saturday to discuss the Paris meeting.

Earlier, Mr de Villepin was briefly barricaded into Mr Gbagbo's residence in the country's main city because of jeering demonstrators outside.

It is thought a rumour that Mr de Villepin had come to demand Mr Gbagbo's resignation sparked the protest, the French news agency AFP reported.

Bombing condemned

The MPCI has threatened to end a ceasefire following the deadly government raid.

Open in new window : Ivory Coast
Click here for pictures of the conflict

The MPCI, which wants to overthrow Mr Gbagbo, is threatening to attack government forces if they are not punished for Tuesday's attack.

The aircraft attacked the village of Menakro, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the ceasefire line agreed in October.

Former colonial power France, which enforces the fragile truce between the MPCI and the government, strongly condemned the bombing.

However the Ivorian army says that the attack was retaliation for a rebel assault and only fighters were killed, not civilians.

Peacekeepers

Meanwhile, an advance party of 49 peacekeepers from four West African nations has arrived in Abidjan, AFP reported.

The West African force was supposed to have been deployed by 31 December but Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told the BBC that the rest of the Senegalese peacekeepers would only be deployed once the two sides had reached a political agreement.

Senegal is supposed to provide the bulk of the 1,200 strong West African peace force, including the commander.

The MPCI has held the mainly-Muslim northern half of Ivory Coast since a rebellion broke out in September, and is based in the central city of Bouake.

New front

In the past month, a new front has been opened by other rebel groups near the Liberian border in the west of the country.

The western rebels have said they are heading to the strategic port of San Pedro and then on to the main city Abidjan.

That advance was halted by French soldiers near the town on Duekoue.

But earlier this week, the rebels attacked the village of Neka - 200km (120 miles) south of previous fighting in the west of the country.

The Ivorian Government has blamed Liberian mercenaries for the attack, saying they were bent on looting. Liberia has denied any involvement.

Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer.

Cocoa prices reached an 11-week high in trading on Friday, amid continuing concerns about disruption to supply from the country.

On Thursday, leading confectionary manufacturers warned that the price of chocolate might rise.

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  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The French foreign minister will try to ease tensions"

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02 Jan 03 | Africa
01 Jan 03 | Africa
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