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08.10.2002 General News

ECOWAS has not abandoned Cote d'Ivoire - Hackman

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Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyeman, Ghana's Foreign Minister, on Monday said the West African Ministerial Group brokering a peace deal between government and rebels in La Cote d'Ivoire had not given up their mission but were "taking fresh instructions from our leaders.

"We are likely to go back to that country by mid-week if all goes well. We cannot afford to abandon this mission. It would be just too expensive." Mr Owusu Agyeman, who is a member of the Foreign Ministers Mediation Mission of six countries of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) told journalists in Accra that the Ivorian government was hesitating to talk to the rebels because, "of its interpretation of the Accra Accord."

President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D'Ivoire was insisting that according to the Accra Accord, the rebels were to lay down their arms but the reality on the ground demanded that both sides agreed to a ceasefire before peace could be achieved.

"We have not given any formal recognition to the rebels, we have not legitimised any group. We have not given de-jury recognition to them. We just wanted them to talk and stop the bloodshed," he said.

He said President Gbagbo was bowing to pressure from the local population not to talk to the rebels. On the question of an armed force intervention, he said; "I cannot rule that out entirely but I cannot tell what form it would take. I could be an AU Force, UN or ECOWAS."

Mr Owusu-Agyemang said there was deep-seated anti-ECOMOG feeling among the population of La Cote D'Ivoire while the rebels have mistrust for the French. "According to the rebels, when they agreed on a ceasefire for the French to evacuate foreign nationals, they were attacked by government troops."

He said the rebels demanded for amnesty, "this is what I will say for now but their demands were not extraordinary". The Foreign Minister said the humanitarian cost of a full-scale war in that country was unimaginable.

"If a country of 16 million people, which has a 40 per cent foreigner population is at war with itself what would happen?" He described the Ivorian situation as "fire in the wind; it could spread anywhere at anytime. We cannot afford to be passive".

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