- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

As the Ivory Coast rebel conflict continues to ensnare outside players, mediators and interested observers, that country's U.S. ambassador, Pascal D. Kokora, made a startling accusation yesterday.
At a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Kokora took aim at France in describing the rebel conflict that broke out Sept. 19. Although the country is in the grip of conflict, the Ivory Coast government is planning to open its market by 2004. In planning to deregulate its telecommunications, water, electricity, road construction and other industries, it has angered the French companies that currently hold monopolies in these sectors, said Mr. Kokora. The portfolio of contracts to be renegotiated by 2004 is worth about $10 billion, he said.
"The French companies are always getting the bids," said Mr. Kokora, adding, "this is not credible." When asked if these French companies are funding rebel fighters, Mr. Kokora revealingly said, "Everybody in the street is saying that." He also expressed his government's frustration with French insistence that a peaceable resolution be reached. "We don't understand the French position in this time of war," he said. "They should have intervened and liberated the country."
French troops are currently overseeing a cease-fire between the Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, and rebel forces that have taken control of key cities. Rebel fighters demand that the Gbagbo government hold new elections. Yesterday, the West African negotiators mediating peace efforts called on rebel forces to rethink their earlier rejection of a government peace proposal, which included an offer of amnesty to insurgents.
With the melee of competing interests seeking advantage in the Ivory Coast, it is no wonder the country has been ripped in half by violent upheaval. Amid the chaotic conflict, the Bush administration has remained a careful arbiter, denouncing both rebel violence and the human-rights transgressions of the Gbagbo government, urging a negotiated solution and allowing other African nations to take the lead in mediation efforts. The administration's measured policy may help the country transcend its current troubles. But conflict in the region has a nasty tendency to be infectious. If the Ivory Coast descends into civil war, combat could spread unpredictably, particularly since Angola is believed to be backing the Gbagbo government, while Burkina Faso, according to the Ivory Coast, backs the rebels.

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