October 15, 2002 - Meadville Tribune: Lori Babcock among the last group evacuated from the Ivory Coast

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Lori Babcock among the last group evacuated from the Ivory Coast

Read and comment on this story from the Meadville Tribune on Lori Babcock who was among the last group evacuated from the Ivory Coast at:

Local Peace Corps volunteer describes evacuation from war-torn West African country*

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Local Peace Corps volunteer describes evacuation from war-torn West African country

By Jean Shanley

Meadville Tribune

Peace Corps volunteer Lori Babcock of Meadville was among the last group evacuated from the Ivory Coast because of an uprising.

She was evacuated late Sept. 30 to Ghana, Africa.

In an e-mail to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Norman (Sandy) Babcock, and other friends and family, she said the events began to unfold Sept. 19 in Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo, apparently by angry, essentially fired soldiers of a particularly branch of the military that was originated under Gen. Robert Guei, who initiated the 1999 coupe d'etat in Cote d'Ivoire.

She wrote that most of her village thought it was basically another violent strike that would pass - until they learned Guei and everyone in his home that morning had been shot and killed.

This was followed by the news that a government minister had been killed, three other ministers kidnapped, and most major political figures of opposition parties in hiding or secured in various embassies.

At least 350 people were killed and many others injured; at that time, Babcock and others didn't know who was responsible.

Although she said very little was clear about what was going on, they did know there has been a good amount of tension in the area for a long time.

"To say the forces at work in the country are complicated is a vast understatement," Babcock wrote.

In other countries where she's lived or spent significant periods of time, she always felt she had an understanding of the various situations. "I do not feel that way about Cote d'Ivoire right now. I hope that changes in time."

She said President Laurent Ghagbo isn't generally well supported by the majority of Cote d'Ivoire and isn't considered to have risen to power by a fully free and fair election in 2000.

She wrote, "The 'rebels,' as they're called, at work in the country have capitalized on this and have grown very strong in influence and number. All Ivoirian cities north of Yamoussoukro are under rebel control and that control is apparently welcome by those populations."She was notified by the Peace Corps by phone on Sept. 22 while in her village of Satama-Sokoura that she needed to head north to Dahakala to meet up with other regional volunteers. There was no gasoline to be found since things began on Sept. 19 and virtually no vehicles.

"Everything had been shut down. My two neighboring volunteers also were stuck. I tried to negotiate transport for the three of us in my village's health center's ambulance, but twice they said 'yes' and twice they then said 'no.' It took a fight, but we secured enough gas to cover the wide distance," she wrote.

She continued, "The eight of us, all volunteers, spent the first night in a small village outside Dabakala and moved into the Dabakala, a small town, for the following eight days. We tried to find a way out on our own, but there was no gas and no vehicles and the primary route went straight through Katiola and Bouake which were impassable. So, we waited and were told each day that someone would get us out.

"We were in an isolated safe spot surrounded by hot spots and didn't know when conflict could spread our way. We were not as large a group as the big cities, but were 23 in all, including French and Japanese nationals. Rebels had agreed to allow the passage of French Humvees to get us, but government loyalists had not given their permission."

They learned their evacuation - and particularly that of French nationals in Dabakala and Korhogo (farther to the north) - was being blocked by loyalists in an effort to secure French support of the current president's government and its military involvement. France has never had any intention of doing anything other than safely removing its nationals, she added.

The group was airlifted Sept. 30 out of Dahakala in three French military Cougar helicopters that touched down in a small, dusty soccer field in the center of town.

The first helicopter carried French soldiers who cleared the area before they climbed aboard and took off.

"It was so fast and so overwhelming. We were all crying," Babcock wrote.

The choppers got the group to Yamoussoukro airport which had been turned into a military base. They were greeted by more soldiers of the French and American armies. A U.S. Army C-130 airplane flew them to Accra, Ghana.

The eight members and the crew of seven were the only people on board.

"I still can't believe all this is happening," Babcock wrote. "Hopefully, it will settle down and we will get to go back and resume our service."

In the meantime, the volunteers are in Accra and the Peace Corps is doing a lot to help them.

Television viewers might have seen her on CNN on the Ivory Coast coverage when she and two other volunteers gave a brief statement.

She also suggested those wishing to learn more may check out the Web by going to Yahoo News and then to World, Africa, Ivory Coast, full coverage, Slide Show.

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