- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 25 (UPI) — Heads of state from 11 West African countries began Saturday to put final touches on an Ivory Coast peace accord, stipulating a new government of national reconciliation.

"We are here to reaffirm to Ivory Coast our solidarity," French President Jacques said at the opening of a two-day Paris summit, which also includes U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and top officials from the European Union and international financial institutions. "And for the country to rediscover the path to reconciliation, civil peace

and restoration."

Now, Chirac added, the two sides must "each day translate the promises into reality."

The meeting, which ends Sunday, follows nine days of talks between Ivorian rebels and government officials outside Paris, aimed to end four months of bloody clashes that have killed hundreds, and displaced thousands.

Early Friday, the two sides struck a fragile agreement, paving the way for a national unity government, to be formed as early as Monday.

The negotiators also agreed to amend a key constitutional clause of Ivorian citizenship, previously based on a controversial, nationalist concept of Ivorite.

Under the accord, too, Gbagbo remains president until new elections, set for 2005.

Those attending the weekend summit not only included the main players in the civil war — notably Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leaders from the North and West — but also leaders from Burkina Faso and Liberia, whom Gbagbo has accused of complicity in the insurgency.

Underscoring the fragility of the agreement, Burkina's president, Blaise Compaore, threatened to petition the International Criminal Tribunal against Gbagbo for alleged violations committed against Burkinabe immigrants in the Ivory Coast during the fighting.

Reports of torture and summary executions have been aired regularly by both rebels and the government in Ivory Coast.

And the country's large immigrant community — comprising more than a quarter of the population —has long complained of discrimination.

In an interview published Saturday in Le Monde newspaper, popular Ivorian opposition politician, Alassane Ouattara, said he too received assassination threats, as a refugee last fall in the French Embassy in Abidjan.

Nonetheless, Ouattara hailed Friday's agreement, saying "an important milestone" had been reached.

"It confirms the engagement of France not only militarily, but also politically," he said. "Now, we need a third part — economic assistance to help us get out of this crisis."

Officials say international aid to the Ivory Coast will be pegged on whether the peace deal is honored.

The world's top cocoa producer, Ivory Coast witnessed a dismal 1.1 percent growth in 2002. But France's development agency predicts the figure could jump to 3.6 percent this year, if market conditions are favorable.

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