Ivory Coast Rebels Cede Some Claims

From Associated Press

Rebels in Ivory Coast said Saturday that they would cede their claims on key Cabinet positions in a new government if the president allowed the prime minister to fill those posts.

The rebel offer, if accepted by President Laurent Gbagbo, could open the way for a new, rebel-included government envisioned in a French-brokered January peace accord meant to end a five-month rebellion.

Rebels and the country's top political bosses met last week alongside officials from the United Nations and a West African economic bloc, currently presided over by Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who called the meeting.

After two days of talks, rebels agreed to forgo demands for control of the Defense and Interior ministries, providing that Gbagbo allows those Cabinet members to be nominated by Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, appointed as part of the January peace pact.

Gbagbo, who did not attend the meeting in Ghana, has insisted that he alone will name the Cabinet.

In a statement, the rebels said that if Gbagbo agrees by Friday to their conditions, they would be satisfied with two lower ministries. The statement did not state any consequences if the deadline passes.

A 15-member council drawn from rebels, the government, political parties and Ivory Coast's security forces would then decide whether to ratify the prime minister's Cabinet picks, the statement said.

Ivory Coast, the world's biggest producer of cocoa and a regional economic powerhouse, has been split into rebel- and government-held regions since a failed Sept. 19 coup erupted into a civil war by three rebel factions.

More than 1,000 people have died. French troops are enforcing a fragile cease-fire in their former colony and protecting their citizens and other foreign nationals.

The French army said it was involved in a clash with "armed elements" early Saturday near the town of Duekoue and two French soldiers suffered minor injuries.

"They tried to filter through and cross the line maintained by the French army, but they were pushed back," Lt. Col. Philippe Perret said of the assailants. "We don't know who they are."

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