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Ivory Coast Battle Scares U.S. Kids
1280,-2039026,00.html, Ivory Coast Battle Scares U.S. Kids
Ivory Coast Battle Scares U.S. Kids
Tuesday September 24, 2002 3:10 PM
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - When bullets started zinging around a school compound in a rebel-held city in this West African country, the children holed up inside, including 100 Americans, were terrified.
``It really was cross fire, not shooting at the children but a whole lot of ammo going, scaring the kids to death,'' said James Forlines, director of Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions, which has missionaries in the region.
Forlines, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone Monday from Nashville, Tenn., where he was in hourly contact with the school in the central city of Bouake, said none of the children were hurt.
Loyalist forces claimed Tuesday that their troops had made their way into Bouake, Ivory Coast's second-largest city. ``Our troops entered Bouake yesterday,'' Col. Philippe Mangou told state radio. The government did not claim to have retaken Bouake, however, and rebels denied the city of a half-million had been breached.
After being driven from the commercial capital Abidjan in 12 hours when the fighting began last week, the rebels withdrew to Bouake, and to the northern city of Korhogo.
A resident of Korhogo said by telephone that rebels were firing automatic weapons into the air and ordering people out of the town center and back into their homes. Rebels were patrolling the streets and no loyalist soldiers had been seen in the town, the resident added.
As fighting ebbed and waned in the center and north of the former French colony, there were signs the political atmosphere was deteriorating. Top opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara on Tuesday accused government forces of having tried to kill him during the coup attempt last week that opened Ivory Coast's bloodiest-ever uprising.
Speaking by telephone from the French Embassy, where he fled during the uprising, Ouattara said an attempt had been made on his life Thursday by paramilitary police.
``It's clear they are using this situation to try to liquidate and eliminate people in my party,'' he said.
Ouattara's supporters, who are predominantly Muslim northerners, have clashed frequently with President Laurent Gbagbo's mostly southern Christian backers. In 2000, hundreds of people were killed in street fighting triggered by presidential elections, from which Ouattara was excluded.
Monday night's shooting around the school seems to have been just another salvo in the fighting, but it terrified the young residents of the International Christian Academy.
It's a feeling many Ivorians have shared - from those who woke to a nighttime rattle of machine-gun fire in Abidjan on Thursday at the start of a brutal failed coup attempt to the residents of rebel-held cities, spending sleepless nights waiting for a long-heralded loyalist attack.
Ranging from infants to 12-year-olds, the young Americans are among 200 foreigners holed up at a boarding school for children of missionaries in Bouake, a besieged city of a half-million people that has been in rebel hands since Thursday.
Forlines said the shooting started as the children were making their way across the compound plaza after supper.
Rebels, some of whom had broken into the compound, were firing across the campus, some shooting automatic weapons from the hip, Forlines said.
It was difficult to tell who was shooting at whom or why - a common complaint in Bouake, 220 miles north of Abidjan. Loyalist and rebel troops are both wearing uniforms and sometimes the shots heard are just being fired into the air, making it difficult to gauge if a real attack is taking place.
Residents in Bouake said the shooting was brief and rebels denied radio reports that the city had been retaken by loyalist troops.
``They weren't necessarily shooting at anyone, but my goodness,'' Forlines said. ``It's a large campus and where they penetrated was at the far back end. I don't think the bullets were in danger of hitting anyone,'' he added.
In the increasingly confused conflict that has shattered the fragile stability here, Western expatriates have not so far been targeted.
Far more exposed are immigrants from neighboring Muslim countries, who have already been attacked in the lagoon-side capital Abidjan, as the uprising revives deadly rivalries between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
In Abidjan, after the coup, residents said paramilitary police set fire to their homes in a mostly Muslim shantytown. Newly homeless people lined the roads, some pushing their belongings on handcarts, others standing amid pots, sofas and clothes on roadsides.
Red Cross and other international organizations sought shelter for nearly 4,000 people displaced by the coup violence.
The rebels' choice to take refuge in mainly Muslim cities has underscored the country's regional, religious and ethnic fault lines that lie behind hundreds of deaths since the country's first coup in 1999.
The same rifts have split the nation's security forces. The core group of ex-soldiers behind the uprising are believed to have been dismissed because they were seen as loyal to the country's former junta leader, Gen. Robert Guei, killed by paramilitaries in the first hours of the uprising.
Authorities have said that Guei, who installed a military regime after the country's first coup in 1999, was behind the bloodletting - but Guei's family and aides have denied his involvement, as have some rebels.
Gbagbo's government has accused other countries of supporting the uprising - an accusation widely believed aimed at least in part at Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast's Muslim neighbor to the north.
Ivory Coast previously has accused Burkina Faso of providing haven and support to armed Ivorian dissidents. Burkina Faso said it was closing its border with Ivory Coast on Monday until further notice.
France has sent extra troops and helicopters to the Ivory Coast to reinforce its 600-person strong permanent presence in a country once seen as an oasis of stability in a region scarred by some of Africa's most brutal wars.
The U.S. Embassy said Sunday it had no immediate plans to evacuate its nationals.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002