Ivory Coast Rebels Ready to Sign Truce, Mediators Say

After repeated delays, rebels who launched Ivory Coast's bloodiest uprising agreed Wednesday to sign a truce with the country's embattled government, West African mediators said.

The envoys planned to fly from the commercial capital, Abidjan, to the central rebel-held city of Bouake on Thursday for the signing, said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the regional economic bloc behind the initiative.

They will be accompanied by a Cabinet minister who will sign on behalf of the government, he said. It was not immediately clear which minister that would be, or who would sign for the rebels.

The rebels have seized the northern half of the country since launching a bloody coup attempt Sept. 19. Hundreds have died in the fighting.

An earlier attempt for a cease fire foundered at the last minute on the government's insistence the rebels disarm first.

The new plan -- initiated by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who heads the Economic Community of West African States -- calls for the rebels to confine themselves to barracks, with their weapons, so peace talks can begin.

Government and rebel officials did not immediately comment on the announcement.

President Laurent Gbagbo has already said his government accepts the mediators' proposals. The rebels indicated on Sunday that they also agreed "in principal" to the plan, but took four days to give final confirmation they would sign -- forcing mediators to repeatedly postpone their trip to Bouake.

"I'm praying that tomorrow we will sign the peace accord," Senegalese Foreign Minister Tidiane Gadio said in Abidjan. "I'm not going to Bouake for anything else."

He said the mediators were still hammering out the last details of the plan with both sides, but declined to elaborate.

The war -- and ethnic violence it is unleashing -- has caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, creating a tide of refugees that aid workers fear could spill over Ivorian borders, destabilizing other West African countries.

They are centered around 750-800 ex-soldiers, many of them dismissed from the army for suspected disloyalty. Their uprising has also gathered support from Ivorians in the north, who complain that Ivory Coast's southern-based government treats them poorly.

Mediation efforts were stalled over the weekend by fighting in Daloa, a key southwestern cocoa city captured by the rebels, then reclaimed by government forces in a counterattack. Residents said Daloa was quiet Wednesday.

"When the government reinforcements came from Abidjan they pushed the rebels all the way out of town to the north," said Bruno Gaston, a hotel receptionist contacted by telephone. "There are still residents leaving town, but now others are coming back at the same time."

Ivorian army spokesman Col. Jules Yao Yao urged Daloa residents Wednesday to help the army in a "mopping up and consolidation exercise." Speaking on state television and radio, Yao called on citizens to denounce suspects and hand them over to the appropriate authorities.