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Ivory Coast's Rival Faction Leaders to Hold Summit

26 February 2006

The five principle personalities in Ivory Coast's more than three-year-old civil war are to begin meeting Monday in the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro. This is the first time the leaders of the warring factions have agreed to meet on Ivorian soil since the beginning of the conflict in late 2002.

Expected to attend the two days of meetings are President Laurent Gbagbo, former President Henri Konan Bedie, popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, and the leader of the New Forces rebels, Guillaume Soro.

The meeting was called by the prime minister of the recently created government of transition, Charles Konan Banny.

The director of the government's communications team, Anne-Marie Konan-Payne, told VOA the main function of the summit is to get all the different sides talking again.

She says the meeting is important because, without that communication, an exit to the crisis will be difficult.

Despite repeated efforts at outside mediation, including the creation of a more than 10,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, rebels and southern militias have failed to disarm. Elections set for last October had to be canceled.

A new U.N. Security Council resolution was passed soon after, extending the mandate of President Gbagbo, and calling for the appointment of a new prime minister and transitional government. A U.N.-backed peace plan is intended to pave the way for elections before the end of October.

New Forces spokesman Cisse Sindou said much will need to be accomplished at the summit Monday and Tuesday, if the new election deadline is to be kept.

"We have to really clarify a lot of points about the peace process, concerning first the disarmament process, then the identification process, the functioning of the government, and the security of New Forces members that have to stay in Abidjan," said Sindou.

Rebel leader Guillaume Soro was appointed minister of reconstruction in the new government, but has yet to attend a Cabinet meeting, claiming it is not safe for him to travel to Abidjan. New Forces spokesman Sindou says the summit is aimed at ironing out differences.

"It is a very important meeting, because it seems like either everyone has a different level of understanding of the peace process, or people are really just not implementing the different accords on purpose," he added.

President Gbagbo, Bedie and Ouattara are all expected to vie for the presidency when elections are eventually held.

Former President Bedie, who was toppled in a 1999 military coup, returned to Ivory Coast from exile last year to head his Democratic Party of Ivory Coast.

The head of the opposition Rally of Republicans, Ouattara, an ex-prime minister, returned from three years of exile in January.

Peace efforts have faltered recently. A recommendation by a U.N.-backed International Working Group not to extend the expired mandate of parliament led to four days of anti-U.N. violence in the government-held south.

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