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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

4 December 2002

Côte d'Ivoire's Permanent Representative to the United Nations called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to live up to its own declarations and help restore peace in his country by recognizing that the Government was making every effort while the rebels were intent on disrupting the peace process. Philippe Djangone-Bi made the appeal this morning at a Headquarters press conference, prior to the next ECOWAS meeting on the situation to be held on Saturday 7 December in Accra, Ghana.

On the night between 18 and 19 September, he recalled, targeted attacks were carried out simultaneously in Abidjan, Bouaké and Korhogo in his country. The attacks appeared to be a simple mutiny at first. They had now been shown to be a carefully prepared coup attempt, backed by huge financial, logistical and military means. Since 18 October, the Ivorian Government had committed itself to ending the crisis through negotiations under the auspices of ECOWAS and with the active participation of the United Nations and the personal involvement of the Secretary-General. The African Union and the European Union were contributing to the process. France's troops were supervising the ceasefire. The Ivorian Government had participated in negotiations in a spirit of tolerance and forgiveness, but the rebels did not seem ready to solve the crisis peacefully.

For its part, he said, the Government had agreed in principle to the basic demands of the rebels. It had committed itself to introducing a bill that would make provisions for freeing imprisoned soldiers and allowing exiles to return and be reintegrated into the army, without legal action against those who had plotted against the State. A bill had already been introduced that would markedly improve the conditions of military service. Parliament had been asked to give priority attention to the matter. Those soldiers whose imminent demobilization had served as a pretext for the rebellion would also be reabsorbed into the army. The Government had made important concessions to the rebels, even entertaining the possibility of revising the Constitution by holding a referendum to see if the Ivorian people wanted it amended.

The rebels, on the other hand, had given the Secretary-General a mandate of negotiation and had then changed their leadership, choosing as leader a man who rejected all previous agreements, he said. Just last week, the rebels had rejected the proposals presented by Togo's President Gnassingbé Eyadema. They were demanding that President Laurent Gbagbo resign, that the Constitution be amended and that new elections be held. They were constantly breaking the ceasefire and reinforcing their positions with arms, ammunition, men and equipment, coming largely from outside the country.

He said acts of war and other provocations continued. Incidents were rampant. A sugar plant had been attacked. The national television station had been occupied. People hostile to the rebel cause were assaulted. Unarmed security and police officers were summarily executed. Taxes were levied on goods and vehicles entering the country from the north. Over the past week, the rebels had moved west and changed their name, as if to create a diversion. Just yesterday, the Ivorian head of the delegation to the present meetings in Togo had made a strong declaration about the calculated procrastination and ceasefire violations by the rebels.

In short, he said, the Government had not yet made an official statement, but ECOWAS must face its responsibility to reach a negotiated peace settlement in the framework of constitutional order while preserving Côte d'Ivoire's territorial integrity. For more than a month, the rebels had contested that principle and had demanded the resignation of the country’s democratically elected President. The situation had turned into a state of war. There was illicit movement of weapons, goods and people across the borders. What was happening in Côte d'Ivoire could easily happen in another country.

It could even set a precedent in the subregion, he emphasized, reiterating that ECOWAS had said it would use other means to restore peace if the rebels refused to disarm and resolve their problems peacefully. In response to a question, he said countries such as Mali, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Guinea had already closed their borders to help control the movement of illegal arms, ammunition, goods and people in the region and into Côte d'Ivoire.

"When your neighbour's house is on fire you help put it out, since your house can be on fire next and you'll need the help," he said. The rebels could be making a test case in Côte d'Ivoire. If successful, they could be planning to take their campaign elsewhere.

A correspondent pointed out that Côte d'Ivoire's neighbors were taking their nationals out of the areas being overrun by the rebels and leaving the uprooted Ivorians at the mercy of the rebels. What was the Government doing to help those people?

The Ministry of Solidarity was taking care of that population, Mr. Djangone-Bi answered. Special funds were being made available to the people. Also, international agencies were assisting them, particularly the United Nations.

Asked whether any other governments were involved in the supplies coming into the country for the rebels, he said there was no definite proof or precise information on such involvement. But the supply route came from the north, the direction from which the rebels were being reinforced. There were no arms factories up there in Côte d'Ivoire. The arms and supplies had to be coming from the outside. In response to another question, he said ECOWAS was presently focused on getting the rebels to lay down their arms and negotiate peacefully with the legal Government of Côte d'Ivoire. It aimed at dislodging the rebels, freeing the territories they held and restoring the authority of the democratically elected Government.

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