BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa traveled yesterday to the rebel-held north of Ivory Coast, telling cheering crowds that his peacemaking efforts were designed to improve the life of all people in the former French colony and economic hub of West Africa.
Mbeki, an emissary of the African Union, met rebel leaders after talks in the government-held south with President Laurent Gbagbo.
''We want to clear the way for a better life for everyone in Ivory Coast," Mbeki told crowds who greeted his arrival.
''I agree with you that once one has reached an accord, it must be applied," he said, referring to stalemated power-sharing deals between the north and south.
Rebels, angered that the government resorted again to military strikes last month, say any resumption of peace talks depends on Gbagbo's removal from power.
''President Gbagbo is the problem. He can't resolve the problem," rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said in Bouake, the insurgents' de facto northern capital since civil war split the country in September 2002.
International leaders have stepped up pressure for resolution in Ivory Coast since last month, when Ivory Coast warplanes bombed a French peacekeeping post during three days of renewed government attacks on the north. Nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker died in the airstrike, which prompted brief, unprecedented battles between troops from Ivory Coast and France.
France led an evacuation of more than 9,000 Westerners in the violent, anti-foreigner protests that erupted afterward.
Mbeki and others are pushing the rebels and the government to make good on power-sharing deals meant to reunify the country. But since the airstrikes of Nov. 3-6, rebels largely have insisted upon Gbagbo's removal.
On Saturday, encouraged by Mbeki, Gbagbo offered a concession -- saying he would ask the National Assembly to review the eligibility requirements for the presidency.
Gbagbo will ask the assembly to consider dropping a constitutional requirement that any presidential candidate must be born of Ivorian-born parents. For years, Ivory Coast's government has used that provision to bar former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara from running, insisting that his parents are foreign-born.
Ouattara, who says his parents are native Ivorians, would be the candidate favored by many northerners and by many of the millions of West African immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, was West Africa's single-most stable and prosperous nation for decades since independence in 1960. A 1999 coup opened the way for the current regional, ethnic, and political tensions.