ECOWAS mission seeks cease-fire in Ivorian crisis

Abidjan- Cote d'Ivoire (PANA) -- A contact group despatched to Cote d'Ivoire by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has indicated it would negotiate a cease-fire as a matter of priority, before seeking a lasting solution to the conflict between rebel soldiers and the Ivorian government.
"Before addressing rebel demands, we would try to obtain a cease-fire agreement," ECOWAS executive secretary Mohammad Ibn Chambas told PANA Thursday in Abidjan, moments before leaving for the rebel-controlled city of Bouake, about 350 km north of Abidjan.
Chambas said he was optimistic about the mediation initiative taken by ECOWAS, observing that the Ivorian crisis "has lasted too long.
" He acknowledged what he said was the good will shown by the Ivorian authorities, who last Monday reverted from a previous stance to accept the principle of a cease-fire agreement.
The government had hitherto insisted that the rebels first lay down their arms before any negotiations could be possible.
Chambas said he was confident the rebels, who have already set up a committee in preparation for possible negotiations "would show the same good will.
" The ECOWAS executive secretary described an initial telephone contact earlier Tuesday with one of the rebel leaders as "cordial and very relaxed.
" He also hinted that AU Commission interim chairman Amara Essy would take part in negotiations with the rebels.
The ECOWAS contact group on the Ivorian crisis was set up at an extraordinary summit held last Sunday in Accra, Ghana.
The group, led by Chambas, includes Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Niger.
The ECOWAS initiative comes as fighting between mutinous soldiers and loyalist forces continue into the second week, with the death toll estimated at 500 so far.

03 october 2002 19:09:00

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