ECOWAS seeks Nigeria's involvement in Ivorian mission

  Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- ECOWAS is trying to persuade Nigeria to rescind its decision not to contribute troops to the sub-regional peacekeeping mission for Cote d'Ivoire, which is due for deployment next week.
   "What we are doing is working to get Nigeria to participate in this force because we can't imagine a sub-regional force without Nigeria," said General Cheick Diarra, the ECOWAS Deputy Executive Secretary in charge of political affairs, defence and security.
   Diarra, who noted Nigeria's lead role in ECOWAS' successful intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone, was scheduled to meet with Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi, Thursday.
   Ogohi's representative, Brigadier General Alhassan Akonji, had told the meeting of Defence Chiefs of ECOWAS troop contributors in Abuja Wednesday that due to "internal developments," Nigeria would not contribute to the peacekeeping force, which is expected to take over from French troops currently monitoring the 17 October cease-fire agreement between the Ivorian government and rebel soldiers.
   He said Nigeria's participation, for now, would stop at the provision of staff officers at the ECOWAS Secretariat.
Nigeria had initially pledged to contribute 776 soldiers to the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to Cote d'Ivoire before scaling the figure down to 250 and finally opting out.
   Though ECOWAS has scaled down the strength of the mission, from over 2,000 to 1,500, the peacekeeping force which was approved 26 October by the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council is still short by 135 troops.
   Troops pledged by five out of the nine countries that initially agreed to contribute to the force now stand at 1,365, made up of 300 soldiers each from Benin and Togo, 265 from Ghana and 250 each from Senegal and Niger.
   ECOWAS sources told PANA that Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mali were dropped from the initial list because Cote d'Ivoire objected to their soldiers' participation in the force.
   Meanwhile, France has agreed to extend the cease-fire monitoring role of its estimated 1,000 soldiers by 15 days (ending about 20 November) to give enough time for the ECOWAS troops to deploy.
   In addition, France has agreed to cater for 600 of the ECOWAS force.
Britain will take care of Ghanaian troops while the US has agreed to provide transport and equipment to the tune of two million dollars.
   ECOWAS officials told PANA that other partners of the sub-regional organisation, including Germany, Netherlands and Canada, have also agreed to provide assistance for the peacekeeping force.
   Cote d'Ivoire was thrown into political turmoil 19 September following a mutiny by a section of the country's armed forces.
Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced since the start of the crisis, which has left half of the country in rebel hands.
   In addition to monitoring the cease-fire, the ECOWAS 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.

07 november 2002 14:19:00

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