- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 26 (UPI) — French and African leaders Sunday urged Ivory Coast factions to follow through on a newly cobbled peace agreement for the West African country.

"I hope now that each party … respects the engagements he has taken," French President Jacques Chirac said at a news conference off the Champs Elysees, which included African heads of state and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The briefing came after a two-day Paris summit among the parties.

Cinched Friday between Ivorian government and rebel leaders, following nine days of talks, the agreement paves the way for a national unity government and an interim prime minister — Seydou Diarra, 69, a respected Muslim politician from northern Ivory Coast.

The agreement, along with the help of West African and French peacekeeping forces, is aimed at putting an end to four months of conflict that has ripped the country apart.

Reports suggested Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was unhappy with the agreement, which gives rebel factions key portfolios, including the ministries of Interior and Defense.

Gbagbo told reporters he had considered resigning — but was dissuaded when Gabonese President Omar Bongo said he would be "cowardly" to do so.

"I have not won the war," Gbagbo admitted. "So the only path that remains is discussion and compromise" with three rebel groups that currently control large parts of the country's North and West.

He added, however, "Everything that respects the Ivory Coast has been preserved (in the peace agreement). That's why I'm happy."

Whether the fragile deal can pave the way to long-term peace remains uncertain.

"It's OK," one United Nations official said of the agreement. "It all depends on the implementation."

The new-found good will was quickly tested. On Saturday, pro-government protesters demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Abidjan alleging Gbagbo was strong-armed into accepting a compromise.

Some chanted "Down with the Vichy regime!" in reference to the pro-Nazi occupation government during World War II.

Demonstrators also pillaged a French high school and attacked homes of Burkinabe immigrants in the city.

Chirac downplayed the incidents Sunday, describing them as "a few excesses" that had been dealt with by Ivorian security forces. He said some of the 2,500 French troops on hand also were protecting French and foreign interests.

The European Union has earmarked just over $400 million to help reinvigorate the Ivorian economy, including an initial $150 million in emergency assistance. The rest of the aid will be triggered to whether the parties respect the peace agreement.

Annan said human rights inspectors had arrived in Ivory Coast to investigate reports of abuses by both sides. A report will be delivered next week, he added.

"It is not going to be easy," Annan said of implementing the agreement. "But I think the Ivorians who have been asking for peace, who have been suffering for the past few months, deserve stability and peace. And the leaders have an obligation to give it to them."

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