- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast Rebels in Ivory Coast agreed to a cease-fire yesterday after talks with top West African envoys, who flew into this rebel-held city hoping to halt an insurgency that seized half the country in two weeks.

"They have agreed to a cease-fire," said negotiator Mohamed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the West African economic bloc that is pushing for peace. He said the agreement would be signed today in the nation's capital, Yamoussoukro.

Mr. Chambas, speaking after talks in the central city of Bouake, said he hoped the mediators would be able to discuss the rebels' grievances after the signing of the pact. It was not immediately clear how long the cease-fire would last.

Ivory Coast has been plunged into crisis since a Sept. 19 uprising by disgruntled soldiers, who have since captured Bouake and the northern opposition stronghold of Korhogo, as well as most of the northern half of the country.

Desperate to avert an all-out conflict, the West African envoys flew into Bouake earlier yesterday to urge the rapidly advancing rebels to lay down arms.

President Laurent Gbagbo's government having yielded the north of Ivory Coast to the rebels in just 15 days has made clear it is open to a cease-fire.

Members of the peace mission, including foreign ministers from five nations, arrived in French army helicopters. They were driven to a French school through quiet streets that betrayed no signs of the conflict that has split the once-stable nation.

At the school, rebel leaders kept the ministers waiting for an hour before driving up in a convoy of pickup trucks. Bearded rebel Tuo Fozie climbed out, shook hands and saluted.

A French military cargo plane flew the delegation to Yamoussoukro, a base for the formidable French force, reinforced amid Ivory Coast's deadliest uprising.

There, they transferred to helicopters for the ride to Bouake, 220 miles north of Abidjan. Bouake was taken over by rebels two weeks ago, and its half-million people have since been struggling to get by without water, electricity and fuel. Food also is running low.

The delegation included foreign ministers from Ghana, Togo, Niger, Nigeria and Mali. The sixth member of the contact group, Guinea-Bissau, was not represented. The regional leaders seek to stop Ivory Coast, long an anchor of stability in a war-riven region, from following neighbors Sierra Leone and Liberia down the path to full-scale civil war.

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