Mbeki holds talks in Ivory Coast

Opponents of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo were set to have talks on Sunday with South African President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union’s mediator in the divided country, a spokesperson for Mbeki said.

David Hlabane said Mbeki would meet separately with Alassane Ouattara, who was barred from running against Gbagbo in presidential elections five years ago, and Guillaume Soro, chief of the New Forces rebels holding the northern part of Ivory Coast.

He gave no indication of the substance of the talks, which come as Mbeki tries to push a new peace plan for what used to be west Africa’s economic powerhouse.

The meeting comes two years after the signing of a French-brokered agreement designed to restore normality to Ivory Coast but have so far been unsuccessful.

The country has been split since September 2002, when a military mutiny failed to topple Gbagbo but the rebels gained control of the northern half.

The two sides have been kept apart by United Nations and French peacekeepers.

Under the accord signed at Marcoussis in France in January 2003, a government of national unity was formed, but an attack by government forces on northern positions in November halted any progress toward compromise.

The rebels have pulled out of cabinet meetings, saying their safety cannot be guaranteed.

Ouattara, a former prime minister, says he will have another shot at the presidency in elections planned for later this year, following constitutional changes agreed under Marcoussis.

Ivory Coast’s parliament last month amended an article in the constitution that was aimed at disqualifying Ouattara from ever standing in an Ivorian presidential vote due to lingering questions about his country of origin. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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