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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

COTE D IVOIRE: Call for departure of French peacekeepers

(IRIN) - The ruling party of Cote d'Ivoire has called for the departure of French peacekeepers and the dissolution of a group of mediators ahead of a visit of South African President Thabo Mbeki on Monday. The Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) "demands the departure of all military French forces" monitoring the cease-fire between rebels in the north and government troops in the south, chairman Pascal Affi N'Guessan said in a statement read on state television late Friday. Some 4,000 French and 6,000 UN peacekeepers patrol the north-south buffer zone that was established after a failed coup in September 2002 triggered a brief civil war.

NGuessan also called for the dissolution of a group of mediators known as the International Working Group, set up last year to oversee the implementation of a United Nations-backed peace plan designed to reunite the West African nation. N'Guessan's speech came ahead of the arrival on Monday of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who acts as mediator for the African Union (AU). Mbeki was expected to discuss the peace process with Gbagbo, who said earlier this month that he had lost faith in mediation efforts and planned to submit his own peace proposals to the AU. The rebel New Forces movement, which accuses Mbeki of being partial to Gbagbo and refuses to negotiate with him, called on the AU to replace Mbeki as mediator in a statement published Monday. Observers say Mbeki feels sympathetic to the ruling party's opposition to former colonial power France.

There was no immediate reaction to N'Guessan's call on FPI militants to "engage... in the principal struggle, that of the departure of the French armed forces". Hardline Gbagbo supporters accuse Paris of supporting the rebels and have repeatedly called for the closure of the French army base on the outskirts of the main city, Abidjan. The base was besieged by radical pro-Gbagbo youths, known as Young Patriots, during anti-French riots in November 2004. It was set up after independence under a mutual defence agreement between France and Cote d'Ivoire. Analysts say political tension is likely to rise over the next few weeks as Gbagbo's mandate, which was extended by twelve months last year under the UN-backed peace plan, expires on 31 October. West African leaders are poised to hold a series of meetings in order to work out a new peace agenda for discussion at a UN Security Council meeting in mid-October. pb/cs [ENDS] This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006
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