Rebels again boycott government meeting

Cote d'Ivoire's government of national unity met for the second time on Thursday in the capital, Yamoussoukro, but again without the presence of rebel nominees to the cabinet. The main opposition group, which boycotted last week's meeting, this time attended. Prime Minister Seydou Diarra chaired the meeting.

Despite the missing members of the 41-member cabinet, President Laurent Gbagbo painted a positive picture of this second meeting. "I am the capitain but I need shipmattes. The shipmates are here," he told the meeting whose highlight was the designation of government priorities: executing major economic reform projects, pursuing governnace programmes and repositioning the country as a model in the international community.

The rebels, led by the Mouvement Patriotique de Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI), however later flew from their stronghold in Bouake into Yamoussoukro where they met Diarra. Before that meeting, Diarra had said: "Up until yesterday, I had strong hopes that everyone would be here, but I am losing faith. I will fight so that the list is complete, even if it means that I have to travel to Bouake."

It was unclear what held back the MPCI and the two other rebels from joining the meeting of the government. But after meeting Diarra, MPCI's Guillaume Soro, said peace would not come unless the government stopped recruiting mercenaries to fight in the west. He also accused the government of resuming the use of helicopter gunships in the war.

During the cabinet meeting, Gbagbo questionned the motives of this conflict which he said was only ruining the country and creating more poverty for an already poor country. "A war between poor people is useless", Gbagbo said.

In urging the outgoing and incoming ministers to finalise all the administrative procedures, Diarra announced that he would hold another meeting of the government on Tuesday to assign duties to each ministry.

The UN special representative, Albert Tevoedjre, attended the meeting and read a letter from the Secretary General Kofi Annan, saying that while the day saw war break out in the middle-east but he hoped it would mark the beginning of peace in Cote d'Ivoire.