01 October 2002
Mediators from the Economic Community of West African States are preparing efforts to end fighting between rebel and government forces in Ivory Coast.
A team of diplomats from several West African nations arrived in Abidjan late Monday and met with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. They hope to open discussions this week with rebels who continue to hold parts of the center and north of Ivory Coast.
The diplomats' aim is to mediate a cease-fire between the Ivory Coast government and renegade soldiers who launched their initial attacks on various parts of the country on September 19.
It is not clear where the meeting between diplomats and the rebels would be held. A rebel spokesman said the insurgents are in the process of assembling a committee to meet with the delegation.
The diplomats' discussion with President Gbagbo was held behind closed doors. Officials of the Economic Community of West African States said the meeting went well, but gave no details.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting broke out in the town of Tiebissou, about 40-kilometers north of the political capital, Yamoussoukro. The town has changed hands at least twice during the past week. The government says it controls the town.
There were also reports of fighting in the rebel-held city of Bouake, where residents said they heard heavy gunfire and explosions late Monday and early Tuesday. Bouake, Ivory Coast's second-largest city, is about 100-kilometers north of the political capital, Yamoussoukro.
Scores of people have been leaving Bouake and other rebel-held areas on foot in recent days amid fears of government assaults. Those leaving Bouake say the rebels appear to be well-armed and organized, and have not attacked civilians.
French troops assembled north of Yamoussoukro, as part of what military officials said were efforts to help loyalist forces prevent a rebel incursion to the south. The French, who have flown in reinforcements recently, have said they will provide logistical support to the Ivory Coast forces, but not troops.
U.S. special forces in neighboring Ghana have been on standby in the event that they need to evacuate more Americans from the troubled regions of the country. U.S. troops this week rescued hundreds of Americans and other foreigners from the northern rebel-held towns of Korhogo and Ferkessedougou.
West African leaders meeting Sunday in Ghana agreed to deploy thousands of peacekeepers in the event that mediation efforts fail.
Fighting in Ivory Coast has killed hundreds of people since the crisis broke out.