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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 14:06 GMT
Ivorian rebels delay offensive
Rebel leader Guillaume Soro (l) is met in Accra by Foreign Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyemang last week
The rebels insist they will not back down
Ivory Coast rebel leaders have postponed their threat to march on Abidjan.

The heads of state have asked us to be patient and we respect what they say

Cherif Ousmane, rebel military leader
The rebels said they would review the situation after the Franco-African summit later this week in Paris, where Ivory Coast is likely to dominate official discussions.

Last week the main rebel group, the MPCI, threatened to attack the city of Abidjan if they were not given the defence and interior ministry, which they say they were promised at peace talks in France last month.

But they held talks with Ghana's President John Kufuor on Saturday, and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday.

"The heads of state have asked us to be patient and we respect what they say. We will wait until after the Franco-African summit before we decide what we shall do next," Cherif Ousmane, a rebel military leader, said.

A rebel delegation was meeting Niger President Mamadou Tandja on Monday afternoon and was expected to have talks with Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore before returning to their stronghold of Bouake on Monday evening.

As the Sunday midnight deadline passed, President Laurent Gbagbo announced that the curfew he brought in when the civil war began in September had been extended for another two weeks.

Government forces have been seen moving towards the front line to reinforce their positions.

The BBC's World Affairs correspondent Mark Doyle says the underlying danger is that Ivory Coast has come to resemble a huge armed camp with thousands of poorly-trained young men bearing weapons and setting up road-blocks.

Reports from both government and rebel sides say the politicians have lost control of some of these youths.

Frustration

But as the rebel leaders embarked on their diplomatic tour, there are signs of impatience on the ground.

The BBC's Joan Baxter in Bouake says that the situation is very tense, with hundreds of rebels saying they are ready to march on Abidjan.

Ordinary soldiers as well as military officers say they have had enough and that negotiations will not make any difference.

Children waiting for their food rations in Bouake
More than 20,000 people affected by the rebel takeover in Bouake are fed daily

"The men are frustrated because they want to end the suffering of the country, but they listen to what their leaders tell them," Cherif Ousmane, of the Patriotic Movement for Ivory Coast (MPCI), said.

But in Abidjan, the situation was calm on Monday morning, with people going about their business.

A youth leader who supports Mr Gbagbo, Charles Ble Goude, said that people there had nothing to fear, that the rebels were just "bluffing and boasting".

"They know they can never come to Abidjan," he said.

But he added that if the rebels did come, people would react by holding "peaceful demonstrations".

French factor

The uncertainty could come to an end before the rebels complete their regional tour, as Prime Minister Seydou Diarra is expected to announce his government on Monday.

In the meantime, pro-rebel protests against French troops are planned in Bouake on Monday.

Seydou Diarra
Prime Minister Diarra was chosen by Laurent Gbagbo

France, has more than 3,000 soldiers deployed in its former colony to guarantee the safety of western nationals and monitor the shaky ceasefire.

If the rebels carry out their threat to launch an offensive on Abidjan, this will put France in a very difficult position.

The conflict is likely to dominate the Franco-African summit to be held in Paris on Thursday and Friday.

The attendance of Mr Gbagbo has not been confirmed.

The rebels, who would have like to attend, have not been invited.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, Nigerian Presidential aid
"The rebels are willing to give peace a chance"

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17 Feb 03 | Africa
05 Feb 03 | Africa
15 Feb 03 | Africa
07 Feb 03 | Africa
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