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WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS creates peace fund, retains Kufuor as chairman

ACCRA, 20 December 2003 (IRIN) - The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has created a peace fund to react quickly to security problems in the region, but the organisation's annual summit on Friday failed to make progress in settling the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

The one-day summit meeting of 15 West African presidents and prime ministers confirmed Ghana's President John Kufuor as chairman of ECOWAS for a further year.

It also discussed ways of consolidating the peace in Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, following civil wars in all three states and looked at progress in restoring democracy to Guinea-Bissau following a coup there in September.

"Conflict Resolution will continue feature extensively on ECOWAS's agenda as long as there is the need to consolidate the peace processes in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea Bissau," ECOWAS Executive Secretary Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas told reporters after the four-hour meeting in Accra.

"ECOWAS will now use pre-emptive measures to confront potential conflict situations in the sub-region instead of waiting for them to explode," Chambas added.

ECOWAS leaders therefore approved the creation of a Peace Fund, with initial seed money of US$5 million, to cater for the timely financial requirements of maintaining peace and security. The Fund will be topped up with contributions from member countries and the international community.

"Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Senegal have already made their initial contributions. We expect other member countries to fufill their financial obligations to the Fund by the end of the first quarter of 2004," Chambas said.

In recent years ECOWAS has sent peacekeeping forces to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Cote d'Ivoire, but the regional grouping has always had difficulty in paying for such military interventions, which have generally been financially supported by western donors.

There are currently more than 3,000 ECOWAS troops in Liberia, serving as part of a UN peace-keeping force, and a further 1,400 in Cote d'Ivoire and diplomats in the region are nervously eying the situation in Guinea, who ailing president, Lansana Conte, recently warned the army against attempting a coup.

The summit echoed calls by the international community for rebel forces occupying the north of Cote d'Ivoire to retun to the broad-based government of national reconciliation which they abandoned in September, protesting that President Laurent Gbagbo was failing to fully implement a peace agreement signed in January.

But the ECOWAS appeal was issued against the background of an increasingly public power struggle within the rebel movement, officially known as "The New Forces." This pits supporters of the rebels' current leader, Guillaume Soro, against a faction that wants Master Sargent Ibrahim Coulibaly, a key figure in previous coup attempts, to take over and give the movement a firmer sense of direction.

Coulibaly, who is popularly known as "IB," was arrested in France last August on suspiscion of plotting to oust Gbagbo, but was released on bail a few weeks later. However, he is still banned from leaving France.

On Friday, a group of armed supporters of Coulibaly drove round the rebel capital Bouake firing in the air. They also broadcast a message on the rebel television station in Bouake, criticising the current leadership of the rebel movement and demanding that IB be recognised as its leader.

Urging the Ivorian rebels to return to resume their eight seats in cabinet, Chambas said: "Whoever their leadership might be, ECOWAS will still urge the New Forces to return to the government of national reconciliation for the Linas-Marcoussis agreement to fully implemented."

Next year's ECOWAS summit is tentatively due to take place in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance

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