Ivory Coast clashes follow steps to peace

Rebels drop demand for two Cabinet posts


ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - The ink had not yet dried on another promise for peace in this country as fighting broke out in its unruly west overnight, with civilians fleeing their ransacked villages and men firing at French soldiers who are here to enforce a cease-fire in what was once the jewel of their empire.

In Accra, the capital of neighboring Ghana, officials of the Ivorian government of President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels who have sought to overthrow him since September agreed to the composition of a national reconciliation government, as envisioned by a peace accord signed nearly six weeks ago.

Rebels dropped their most contentious demand - control of the interior and defense ministries - in exchange for seats on what is to be a newly established national security council. The proposed council is to have authority over all matters relating to the country's defense.

The mediators of the Ghana talks, which began Thursday, optimistically proclaimed the end of the war yesterday, saying that a new government would be announced March 14. The official television station announced that it would be made up of 39 ministers, with roughly a fourth of them members of Gbagbo's party and the rest split between the two main opposition parties and the rebels.

Gbagbo has insisted all along that only he, as the elected head of state, has the authority to name his Cabinet.

The peace accord envisioned a power-sharing deal between Gbagbo and the rebels who control half the country.

As if on cue, fighting broke out in the west yesterday morning. Unidentified armed men clashed with French peacekeepers near the western town of Duekoue. Two French soldiers suffered minor wounds.

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