Gbagbo meets Compaore

President Laurent Gbagbo flew to Burkina Faso for talks with President Blaise Compaore on Wednesday to try and put Cote d'Ivoire's deadlocked peace process back on track.

Gbagbo has consistently accused Campaore of backing the rebel forces which have occupied the north of Cote d'Ivoire since the country plunged into civil war 14 months ago.

Burkinabe officials, in turn, have accused the Ivorian government of backing a failed coup plot against Campaore, which was discovered last month.

Officials at the Ivorian presidency said the two leaders met in Bobo Dioulasso, a large town in the south of Burkina Faso, which is the landlocked country's main gateway for trade with Cote d'Ivoire.

However, they were unable to comment on the outcome of the talks.

Relations between prosperous Cote d'Ivoire and poorer Burkina Faso have traditionally been close, but they have become strained as a result of the civil war. According to the United Nations, nearly 350,000 Burkinabe immigrants to Cote d'Ivoire have fled home since the start of the conflict, which led to a wave of persecution of West African immigrants in Cote d'Ivoire.

Gbagbo, who flew home immediately after the meeting with Campaore, met Liberian President Gyude Bryant on Monday. Officials said was due to meet the Malian leader Amadou Toumani Toure, in Sikasso, a town in southern Mali, later this week.

Gbagbo and Campaore previously met on 11 November at a summit of seven West African heads of state in the Ghanaian capital Accra, which failed to break a two-month-old impasse in the Ivorian peace process.

The rebels, who are officially known as "The New Forces," signed a peace agreement with Gbagbo in January and joined a broad-based government of national reconciliation in April. But they withdrew their ministers from the coalition cabinet on 23 September in protest at what they said was Gbagbo's refusal to delegate effective power to the government. Plans for the rebels to demobilise and disarm have remained on ice since then.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a delegation of foreign ministers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday to discuss the Ivorian crisis.

On Monday, they had urged the UN Security Council to transform the 1,300 West African soldiers, who have been helping to preserve the ceasefire in Cote d'Ivoire into a fully fledged UN peacekeeping mission.

However, news reports from Washington quoted US officials as rejecting the idea for the time being.

France also has 4,000 peacekeeping troops stationed in Cote d'Ivoire, which was a French colony until independence in 1960. However, a French embassy source told IRIN on Wednesday that France had no plans to put its own forces in the country under UN control.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the Security Council on Monday that Cote d'Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, could slip back into conflict if the current deadlock between Gbagbo and the rebels was not resolved soon.