Cote d'Ivoire: Annan Concerned After President Reportedly Rejects Peace Process

With Côte d'Ivoire already reeling from a toxic waste disaster that has claimed at least half a dozen lives, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today expressed concern that the country's president's reported decision to abandon the ongoing peace process could lead to further instability there.

In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Annan expressed regret at reports that President Laurent Gbagbo yesterday said he was rejecting the peace process, which Ivorian leaders and their international partners had developed over the past three years.

The country has been divided between Government and rebel forces since fighting broke out in 2002.

Mr. Annan said he was also "deeply concerned about the increase in inflammatory rhetoric in Côte d'Ivoire, which is fuelling serious tension as the country approaches the end of the transition period at the end of October."

He urged all Ivorians to exercise restraint, adding that he hoped President Gbagbo would accept his invitation to join regional and other Ivorian political leaders at next Wednesday's high-level meeting in New York to discuss the way forward in Côte d'Ivoire.

Meanwhile, the first members of the World Health Organization's (WHO) international team have arrived in Abidjan to help Côte d'Ivoire's Ministry of Health and the WHO country team deal with the environmental health emergency caused by last month's dumping of toxic waste.

During the night of 19 August, a ship unloaded around 400 tonnes of petrochemical waste into a number of trucks that then dumped the waste at more than 12 sites around Abidjan, WHO says. A few days later the local population started complaining of nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting, headaches, skin lesions, eye irritation and respiratory symptoms.

Some 15,000 people have sought medical care so far, and many hospitals are seeing at least twice their usual number of patients, the agency said. As a result, medical services have been severely disrupted, and medicine is in short supply.

"This has put a double burden on the already weak health system," said WHO in a statement, adding that the crisis "has shown that the country does not have the capacity to deal with such an emergency."

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