Northern-based rebels on Friday rejected a South African peace mediator's suggestion that crucial Ivory Coast elections scheduled for Oct. 30 could be postponed.
South Africa's Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, a key figure in efforts to end a yearslong standoff between Ivory Coast's government and insurgents, said Thursday that "it is quite possible to postpone the elections to the following month or something of this nature."
Rebels, who say balloting on Oct. 30 is impossible and demand President Laurent Gbagbo stand aside for an interim government if elections are not held on that date, rejected Lekota's idea on Friday.
"The South African mediation may take their dreams for reality. But it can't decide against the wishes of Ivorians, who want a transition to give the chance for credible elections in the country," said Sidiki Konate, a rebel spokesman.
But Gbagbo's spokesman, Desire Tagro, described Lekota's comments as "a declaration that conforms to the constitution and we welcome it."
With rebels still armed, the country divided and voter rolls incomplete, few believe elections can be organized in six weeks' time. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has also acknowledged preparations won't be completed in time to hold the vote in October as planned.
Rebels, whose long-stymied campaign to oust Gbagbo sprung from a failed Sept. 2002 putsch, say Ivory Coast's constitution dictates that Gbagbo step down when his five-year mandate ends Oct. 30, unless he is re-elected that day.
Gbagbo supporters say he should stay in office and organize balloting, as foreseen in peace deals signed by government officials and rebels.