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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace Talks End War in Ivory Coast

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Ivory Coast's civil war foes agreed Wednesday after talks in South Africa to end war once and for all in the world's top cocoa grower, a once-prosperous country cut in two by conflict since the end of 2002.

"The Ivorian parties that are signatories to the Pretoria agreement hereby solemnly declare the immediate and final cessation of all hostilities and the end of the war throughout the national territory," they said in a joint statement.

Rebels known as the New Forces seized the north of the former French colony after a failed attempt to oust President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002. Thousands died in fighting and more than a million people were uprooted from their homes.

A French-brokered peace deal was signed in January 2003 but has yet to be fully implemented. A fragile 18-month truce was shattered last November when Gbagbo's forces attacked the rebel north. Since then, fears of a return to war have been growing.

"Above all, this was an agreement between Ivorians. ... We really worked, identified the problems and sought to resolve them," Gbagbo said after signing the statement, adding that it was not "just another accord."

Both sides have agreed several times to end the war but previous pledges have been hobbled by mutual distrust as neither side has been willing to compromise on key demands. Some 10,000 UN and French troops man a buffer zone between the two sides.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the deal and said the world body was looking at how best to help implement the new roadmap, but he said the onus was on Ivorians to make peace.

"[He] reminds the parties that they must bear the primary responsibility in this regard," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

Gbagbo, rebel leader Guillaume Soro and Ivory Coast's main opposition politicians -- Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bedie -- all signed the deal after the Pretoria talks. Analysts said that how Gbago presented the deal to his hard-line FPI party faithful and armed militia backers would be key.

"In public diplomacy he preaches acknowledgement of principles but then when he gets home he pretends he's hostage to extremism in his own party," said Kojo Bedu-Addo, senior Africa analyst at the London-based Control Risks Group. "He has become a political master in recycling peace deals ever since this crisis started."

The leaders said they were determined to hold presidential polls in 2005 and that the United Nations would be invited to participate in the work of the independent electoral commission. But it was still not clear who would be eligible to run.

The rebels have so far refused to disarm until the constitution has been changed to let opposition leader Ouattara stand, in line with the January 2003 deal. Ouattara, a former prime minister, was excluded from a disputed 2000 election over questions of nationality.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating in the crisis, will now consult Annan and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo before ruling on the eligibility issue shortly.