September 25, 2002 - Reuters: French Troops Evacuate Americans in Ivory Coast

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French Troops Evacuate Americans in Ivory Coast

French Troops Evacuate Americans in Ivory Coast

French Troops Evacuate Americans in Ivory Coast

September 25, 2002 04:05 PM ET

By Fiacre Vidjingninou

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - French troops escorted American students and adults to safety at the start of an evacuation of foreigners trapped in Ivory Coast's battle-torn city of Bouake by an army uprising in which hundreds of people have died.

The first group to leave the rebel-held city traveled in a convoy from an American missionary school, where scores of children were among those sheltering from Ivory Coast's worst crisis since it won independence from France in 1960.

With renegade troops controlling swathes of Ivory Coast, tension shot up with neighboring Burkina Faso. Ivorian youths trashed the Burkinabe consulate in a protest against the country's alleged support for the rebels.

French troops took up positions at the International Christian Academy in Bouake, 3 miles from the city center. Paris has sent about 200 soldiers toward Ivory Coast's second city.

French officers said further evacuations of hundreds of foreigners in Bouake would depend on the need.

"For the moment it is not about evacuating them if they are assured by our presence and do not want to go," Col. Charles de Kersabiec told Reuters.

Gunfire which erupted early Wednesday morning on Bouake's outskirts died down quickly. Rebels, who have handed out guns from looted armories to local youths, said they beat off a heavy attack by loyalist forces Tuesday.

Red Cross workers tried to get the wounded to hospital and remove corpses from the streets.

"We have had more than 20 dead, more than 30 dead, I cannot tell how many there are now," one Red Cross worker said.


Airport sources said planes carrying American troops landed at the capital Yamoussoukro, 60 miles south of Bouake, flying in from neighboring Ghana.

The Americans left the school in Bouake in a French-escorted convoy draped with U.S. flags. They headed for Yamoussoukro down a jungle road where the French had cleared with some difficulty trees felled by combatants as roadblocks.

"We thank God that the French came for us," said Sam Parham, an American living in Benin who was picking up his two sons at the school when the uprising began Thursday last week.

"There were many hours of firing overhead. There was tracer going over the compound and one mortar round hit inside the compound," he told Reuters.

A regional summit due in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh Thursday to try to defuse the crisis that threatens to send a surge of instability through West Africa was called off without explanation.

However, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS said its leaders would meet in Senegal's capital Dakar Saturday to discuss the crisis.

As well as producing 40 percent of the world's cocoa, Ivory Coast is sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest economy, the engine of the French-backed West African CFA franc currency zone and a vital port for landlocked countries to the north.


Anti-foreigner sentiment is growing in Ivory Coast after officials said neighboring countries helped the rebels. Westerners have often been accused of opposition bias.

Hundreds of pro-government youths demonstrated outside the French Embassy in Abidjan, which has sheltered opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from what he has said was an attempt to seize and kill him by Ivorian security forces during the chaos.

Youths attacked Burkina Faso's Consulate and smashed shops owned by some of three million Burkinabe immigrants in the country of 16 million. Ivory Coast has accused Burkina Faso of harboring armed dissidents opposed to President Laurent Gbagbo.

Burkina Faso denied involvement and sent a letter of protest to Ivory Coast about attacks by security forces on Burkinabe immigrants in a search for rebels.

Burkina Faso's Security Minister Djibril Bassole said he hoped Ivory Coast would be able to sort out its problems, but warned his country would go to war if it was forced to.

"If all those people in Ivory Coast are obliged to abandon their belongings and rush here ... it's clear that would create a situation which could lead to clashes," he said. "But I think we should do everything to avoid this extreme situation."

A 1999 coup destroyed Ivory Coast's reputation for stability and hundreds died around turbulent 2000 elections.

But this uprising is the first time the country has been split between heavily armed factions or slid to the brink of the kind of conflict that wrecked nearby Liberia or Sierra Leone.

There was no mention of a role in any talks for the army mutineers, who say they are simply soldiers unhappy at being discharged as part of an efficiency drive in the armed forces.

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Story Source: Reuters

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ivory Coast; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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