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25 Sep 2006 00:00
South African President Thabo Mbeki headed to Côte d’Ivoire on Monday to meet with the president of the divided West African country and try to rescue its faltering peace process.
Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer, has been split into a government-held south and a rebel-held north since a failed coup sparked civil war in 2002.
Mbeki has been helping mediate a United Nations-backed peace process to end the conflict and reunify the country through elections.
Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo said earlier this month that the approximately 11 000 UN and French peacekeepers stationed in Côte d’Ivoire were free to leave because the peace plan had failed. The troops help maintain a buffer zone between the two factions.
The Ivorian president also boycotted recent talks between rebels, opposition leaders and UN and African mediators at the UN headquarters in New York.
The head of UN peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, called the meeting at the UN “useful”, but cited no major breakthroughs.
On Friday, Gbagbo’s party told about 4 000 French peacekeepers to leave the country, saying that they were unneeded and called for the dissolution of a group of foreign mediators overseeing the peace process.
Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential and legislative elections have been delayed twice because of disagreements between the two camps and West African leaders are working out a new peace plan for discussion at a UN Security council meeting in mid-October.
The UN plan that gave Gbagbo his mandate expires on October 31.—Sapa-AP
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