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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Truce brings hope to Ivory Coast
General Mathias Doue (l), Ivory Coast national army chief shakes hands with rebel leader Colonel Michel Gueu
Both sides have pedged to uphold the ceasefire

A ceasefire between rebels and government forces in Ivory Coast has come into effect, aiming to halt eight months of civil war.

All sides in the conflict vowed to respect the truce in a war that has seen thousands killed and more than a million people displaced from their homes.

But as the deadline for the end of hostilities passed at midnight local time (0000 GMT), there was confusion over whether fighting was still under way in some areas of the West African country.

Rebels said forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo had attacked their positions in Danane region, near the border with Liberia.

The president's spokesman Toussaint Alain said, however, he was unaware of any fighting, adding: "We hope the ceasefire will be respected by everyone."

The war in the former French colony - the world's leading cocoa producer - began last September with a failed attempt to oust president Gbagbo.

Rebel groups seized the northern half of the country, and occupied much of the west.

'The Wild West'

One rebel leader, Antoine Beugre, said he was confident the ceasefire - part of a French-brokered peace deal - would hold.

"After midnight, no-one will move," Reuters quoted him as saying.

The new government of national unity, which includes ministers from rebel groups, had earlier issued a statement proclaiming the agreement on "a total cessation of hostilities".

Rebel fighter

An interim prime minister, Seydou Diarra, has been chosen to run the government under President Gbagbo until elections are held in 2005.

A joint operation by rebels, the Ivory Coast army and 900 French troops is now being planned to ensure western areas of the country are free from further conflict.

Here - in an area now called Ivory Coast's "wild west" - Liberian fighters are accused of looting and destabilising the area.

Liberia's President Charles Taylor is accused of supporting fighters who have crossed into Ivory Coast.

Saturday's disputed clashes were dismissed by Mr Beugre as an eleventh-hour attempt by Liberian forces to gain ground ahead of the truce.

The new ceasefire provides for the disarmament of mercenaries and armed groups operating on both sides.

"There may still be some uncontrollable elements on the ground," said Michel Gueu, who represented rebel forces in Saturday's signing, "but this is the end of the war."

Some 3,900 French troops are enforcing a ceasefire in the centre of the country.




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The BBC's Paul Welsh
"An important step forward"



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