Defence chiefs of ECOWAS troops contributors meet

  Abuja- Nigeria (PANA) -- Defence Chiefs from nine ECOWAS countries opened a two-day meeting in Abuja Wednesday to decide the structure and other details of the sub-regional peacekeeping force to be deployed in Cote d'Ivoire, embroiled in a political crisis since disgruntled soldiers revolted 19 September.
   But indications are that the force, which will take over from the 1,000 French troops, which have been monitoring a cease-fire signed between government forces and the rebels 17 October, is not ready for deployment.
Cheick Diarra, the ECOWAS deputy executive secretary in charge of political affairs, defence and security, urged the meeting to quickly decide and finalise all arrangements for the deployments of the troops.
   Stressing the need for a quick deployment of the 2,386-member force, Diarra said there had been minor violations of the cease- fire agreement, and expressed fears that the violations could become worse if urgent measures were not taken.
   Diarra, who just returned from Lome where government and rebel representatives are negotiating a political solution to the crisis, said both sides had agreed on the military requirements for the deployment of the force.
However, he said problems persisted on the political aspects.
   "We may not be able to reach all conditions and requirements, but this should not continue to hold back the deployment of the troops," he said.
"The Executive Secretariat is fully committed to the early deployment of the troops.
"   The ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council approved the deployment of the peacekeeping force at its meeting in Abidjan 26 October, following the signing of the cease-fire 17 October.
   In addition to monitoring the cease-fire, the sub-regional force will also facilitate the resumption of public services, ensure the free movement of persons and goods in areas under rebel control as well as implement decisions relating to the disarmament of the insurgents.
The mission will also ensure the safety of insurgents and humanitarian agencies.
   Defence chiefs from all but three of the nine troop contributing states  -- Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo -- are attending the meeting.
   ECOWAS sources told PANA that Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mali did not send representatives to the meeting because Cote d'Ivoire did not agree to have troops from those countries on the force.
   The sources said dropping those countries would not affect the mission as the force was oversubscribed in the first instance.
   About 1,500 troops are required for the first phase of the deployment.

06 november 2002 16:34:00

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