Ivory Coast leader demands unity as peace process falters

IVORY Coast President Laurent Gbagbo insisted the opposition rejoin the country’s unity government after violent clashes claimed at least 25 lives and brought the peace process to the brink of collapse.

“The people who walked away from the ministerial table must return. They can’t behave like spoiled children,” Mr Gbagbo said in Abidjan.

“The departure of Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has given certain Ivorians ideas. But President Gbagbo is not Aristide and Ivory Coast isn’t Haiti,” he said.

Tensions in the volatile west African country have been especially high since the deadly clashes last Thursday between the security forces and anti-Gbagbo demonstrators. The crackdown prompted the walkout by the opposition parties from the unity government.

Police say 25 people died in the unrest, which broke out when security forces were sent in to quell a protest over Mr Gbagbo’s perceived unwillingness to implement a January 2003 peace plan. However, the opposition said around 160 people were killed.

The peace accord calls for the president to give up some of his executive powers and brought rebels, whose uprising on September 2002 plunged Ivory Coast into civil war, into the fragile unity government.

Now all the opposition parties, including the former rebels, have left the government, and have refused calls to meet with Mr Gbagbo.

“We are not prepared to sit down at the same table with our activists’ executioners. That man has dirty hands,” said Bacongo Cisse, a senior member of the main opposition Rally of Republicans (RDR).

The former rebel groups, which joined the transitional unity government as a political movement called the New Forces, still control the northern half of Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer and a former beacon of stability in the region.

Mr Gbagbo said his rivals had walked out because of the expected deployment of UN peacekeepers in the country.

“They don’t want the UN troops to come here because that means the start of a disarmament process they don’t want to see and preparations for elections some of them are worried about,” he said.

The UN Security Council voted last month to create a new 6,000-strong UN peacekeeping force for the west African nation, in addition to the 4,000 French troops already on the ground.

Mr Gbagbo insisted he was the only person who was respecting the French-mediated 2003 peace agreement, which his camp signed with the country’s rebel movements in the Paris suburb of Marcoussis.

“I told them (the opposition groups) to come to a meeting on Monday so we can review the Marcoussis agreements because I am very critical of those agreements today. As it turns out, I’m the only one who’s respecting them,” he said.

“Since the Marcoussis agreements were signed, I’ve done my bit up to now. They’ve got to do their bit, and that means disarming. They don’t want to do that, and that’s what’s really at stake.”

An international committee formed to monitor implementation of the Marcoussis peace deal denounced the violence that marred what aimed to be a “peaceful” march and called for an international investigation into the deaths.

In a statement sent to AFP, the committee said it “denounced the rise in violence ... (and) expressed concern over information about raids and acts of violence in certain neighbourhoods” on Thursday and Friday.

The committee is made up of foreign ambassadors to Ivory Coast and representatives of the European Union and international donors, and is led by the UN special representative to the country, Albert Tevoedjre.

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