Warring Ivory Coast factions to meet to talk peace
ABIDJAN, Feb 25 (Reuters) The key players in Ivory Coast's simmering three-year-old conflict are to meet on Monday to discuss how to reunite the divided West African state, officials said today.
The talks in the capital Yamoussoukro are meant to bring President Laurent Gbagbo face to face with Guillaume Soro -- leader of the New Forces rebels who tried to oust him at the start of a 2002-03 war and now control the country's north.
New Forces spokesman Alain Lobognon could not confirm whether Soro would attend, after returning on Saturday from a meeting in Brazzaville with African Union President Denis Sasso-Nguesso, the leader of Congo Republic.
Monday's talks were convened by Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, an economist installed as part of a UN plan to revive flagging efforts to reunite Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa grower, through disarmament and elections.
Banny and the main democratic opposition leaders are due to attend the meeting.
An official at the prime minister's office said the sides had ''no choice'' but to work together to end the conflict. A string of previous peace deals have broken down.
''We have to move forward. The (U.N.) sanctions committee is watching. Who among them can say they disagree?'' the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Analysts say the warring factions -- often accused of lacking the will to restore peace -- have been over-reliant on international mediators to drag the peace process forward.
Gbagbo and Soro last met in June in Pretoria during South African President Thabo Mbeki's ill-fated attempt to lead foreign mediation efforts.
Despite international pressure, presidential polls due in October failed to take place as rebels pulled out, saying Gbagbo would cheat. The U.N.-sponsored deal to salvage the crisis called for presidential polls by October 2006.
Before they will permit a ballot and disarm, rebels say thousands of northerners who never had identity papers or who have lost them be given new ones, enabling them to vote.
Arguments are also simmering over the makeup of the independent electoral commission and whether parliament should continue to sit until the elections despite its mandate having expired in December.
Reuters SK VP0222