Mbeki jump-starts Ivory Coast talks

ivory coast 09:04 04/04 AP Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki greet during a meeting aimed at reviving a flagging peace process in divided West Africa. Photo: AP

South African president Thabo Mbeki began crucial peace talks at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday with the leaders of war-torn Ivory Coast.

Topping the agenda is the simple, but deadly, question which has torn the once-prosperous country apart: who is an Ivorian?

Successive Ivorian leaders, including current President Laurent Gbagbo, have denied Ivorian citizenship and therefore political rights, to hundreds of thousands of residents who have only one Ivorian parent - and another from one of the neighbouring countries.

Their main motive was to disqualify the country's most popular opposition politician, former prime minister Alassane Outtara, from contesting the presidency.

The United Nations is watching the talks in Pretoria closely. On Monday the mandate expires for the United Nations and French peacekeeping force which is keeping the government and rebel forces apart.

It is expected that the UN will extend the mandate for a month.

In December, soon after the African Union tasked him with mediating peace, Mbeki persuaded the Ivorian leaders to agree to a brisk roadmap to implement the abandoned Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement they had signed in 2003.

In a significant breakthrough for Mbeki, Gbagbo instructed his ruling party to pass legislation rescinding the notorious Article 35 of the constitution which had deprived Outtara and others of Ivorian citizenship.

Then Mbeki's mediation bogged down when Gbagbo insisted that the legislation rescinding Article 35 could only be enacted after being approved in a referendum.

Gbagbo, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, chief rebel leader Guillaume Soro, former President Henri Konan Bedie and opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara attended the talks.

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