The main rebel group in Ivory Coast will join the government and other political parties in Paris peace talks later this month, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Saturday.
De Villepin, wrapping up a two-day visit to the former French colony, met leaders of the northern-based Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast in their stronghold of Bouake, the West African country's second-biggest city.
Afterward, rebel chief Guillaume Soro said his group, which controls the mainly Muslim northern half of the country, was open to a negotiated peace.
We are "entirely and totally ready to take the path of a negotiated, political solution," he said, promising that his forces would respect a repeatedly violated cease-fire with government troops. "We are concerned about sparing the lives of Ivorians."
De Villepin also announced that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan would attend an emergency summit of African leaders in Paris on Jan. 26. The summit has been called to discuss the deteriorating situation in Ivory Coast.
On Friday, De Villepin pressed Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to commit to ending the war, which has split the country along ethnic lines and destroyed its reputation as a regional haven of stability since it broke out after a failed coup in September.
France has been keen to shift the focus of peace efforts to Paris, fearing that the war will spiral out of control after weeks of West African-brokered talks failed to make much headway. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes.
About 2,500 French troops have been deployed to try to keep the peace and protect foreigners in the world's biggest cocoa producer.