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SLUG: 2-296559 Ivory Coast Peacekeepers (L)









INTRO: In Ivory Coast, a team of West African military officers is working on plans for the deployment of more than one-thousand peacekeepers. As Luis Ramirez reports from Abidjan, 19 officers arrived Sunday in the commercial capital.

TEXT: The first contingent of officers began work immediately on plans to deploy more than 12-hundred troops in the coming days.

The peacekeeping force is to replace hundreds of French troops who are serving as a buffer between rebels who control the center and north of Ivory Coast and government forces in the south and west of the country.

French troops have been monitoring a cease-fire that has been in place for a month.

The West African force will be led by Senegal and will include troops from Benin, Ghana, Niger, and Togo. The deployment will be financed by Western nations, including the United States and France the former colonial power.

Since the outbreak of hostilities in September, Ivory Coast has been divided. The center and north are under the control of rebels who want to oust President Laurent Gbagbo. The west and south remain under government control.

Members of the international community have been eager to end the conflict, which has killed hundreds in a country that was until recently seen as an oasis of stability and prosperity in a troubled region.

Economists say Ivory Coast, the world's largest producer of cocoa, accounts for about 40-percent of the region's economic output.

The rebellion has prompted thousands of immigrant workers from nations in the region to flee. Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria have each launched evacuation programs to send home thousands of their nationals. Many of those leaving say they have been the victims of attacks by government security forces.

The Ivorian government denies it is targeting foreigners, and says sweeps conducted recently in immigrant neighborhoods of Abidjan have been meant to weed out rebels and their supporters.

Peace negotiations continue in Togo, where members of a government delegation and rebels are reviewing a set of proposals for a draft accord. Talks have yielded little progress since they started nearly three-weeks ago, but both sides have pledged to carry on the negotiations. (SIGNED)


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