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Ivory Coast Rebels Pull Out of Peace Negotiations

November 10, 2002|From Associated Press

LOME, Togo — The leaders of a seven-week insurgency that has left hundreds dead in Ivory Coast withdrew from peace talks Saturday after a rebel leader's brother was slain in government-held territory.

Rebel negotiator Guillaume Soro accused the government of fostering a "reign of terror" and said the insurgents would return to the talks only if President Laurent Gbagbo pledged to guarantee security in the country. A government response was not immediately available.

The announcement raised the specter of renewed fighting in a country that was the most prosperous and stable in West Africa until a 1999 coup. A coup attempt in September this year led to further instability in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer.

The rebels said they were withdrawing from the talks after Benoit Dacoury-Tabley, brother of the rebels' representative in Europe, was found shot to death Friday, a day after he was taken away by uniformed men. His body was found in a suburb of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city.

But a West African mediator, Mohammed ibn Chambas, said the rebels' withdrawal would not affect the 3-week-old cease-fire being monitored by French troops.

"The cease-fire holds, and it is our expectation that both sides will continue to respect it," he said here in Lome, Togo, where peace negotiations have been underway.

Soro told a news conference in Lome that the talks were not being ended permanently. "As soon as the conditions are right, we are ready to restart negotiations at any moment," he said.

The rebels say they are fighting to protect the rights of predominantly Muslim northern Ivorians, who complain of discrimination and harassment by the Christian and animist southern tribes that traditionally have dominated the government.

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