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UN Ivory Coast force deal close, says Gbagbo

Published Feb 7, 2004


Paris - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was quoted as saying on Saturday French President Jacques Chirac had told him it was "practically agreed" that the United Nations would send peacekeepers to the West African country.

Gbagbo told French daily Le Figaro the force, which he said should comprise about 6 000 UN soldiers, was necessary to ensure fighters disarmed and that a presidential election set for 2005 could go ahead peacefully.

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France supports the mission and has argued the elections could be jeopardised unless UN peacekeepers are dispatched soon to its former colony, where a fragile truce has taken hold after a civil war.

The United States on Wednesday blocked French-backed proposals for a UN mission to the world's largest cocoa producer. But Gbagbo said the United States objected to the mission's cost, not its usefulness.

"It is a question of money, not a question of judging the opportunity," Gbagbo told Le Figaro. "President Chirac told me that it is practically agreed. The decision will be made on February 27."

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Gbagbo's comments were published after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to the United States on Friday not to block Security Council approval for the force, but Washington signalled it was not yet ready to go along.

Annan said he hoped Washington would not stand in the way of the mission and characterised US objections as "mainly budgetary". He also predicted the United States would "come on board fairly shortly".

Gbagbo's comments in the newspaper also came after a leader of Ivory Coast's rebel forces said during a visit to Paris this week his fighters would not disarm unless UN peacekeepers were sent to the country.

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Washington has questioned a UN estimate that 6,240 U.N. soldiers were needed and expressed concern the mission might lead to a de facto partitioning of the country. It has also raised doubts about whether Ivory Coast's government and rebel groups were meeting their responsibilities under last year's peace deal.

In the interview, Gbagbo argued it would take at least 10 000 soldiers - 4 000 French already in the country plus about 6 000 UN personnel - to maintain the peace.

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