Ivory Coast braces for civil war
West African leaders met in Ghana Sunday to discuss deploying troops to end the 12-day rebellion.
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The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, as well as the head of the African Union, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, met in Ghana yesterday to discuss the possibility of deploying troops, though Ivory Coast is asking for transportation and munitions, not personnel. Nigerian war planes have already landed in Abidjan.Skip to next paragraph
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France says it will will provide transport, communications assistance, and food, but will not order its soldiers to fight. France and Ivory Coast maintain a defense pact that calls for France to intervene in Ivory Coast in any foreign-backed conflict. France says that evidence of foreign involvement is not yet clear, so it will continue to play only a supporting role.
But even with foreign help, extricating the rebels from the cities where they now hold strategic positions and have seized government weapons and barracks, will not be easy. Attempts to retake Bouaké and other northern cities have so far failed, with fleeing residents saying government forces were easily turned back.
"The government came and tried to fight the rebels, but they were all killed," says Vincent Corbel, a French citizen who was working at a malaria research center when rebels took the city last week.
Although it is now clear that rebel soldiers control much of the north, little else is known about them. They have no known leader and say they have no ties to any political group or foreign nation.
At least some of the rebels are mutinying soldiers from the Ivorian Army, and say they are tired of being treated as foreigners because they come from the largely Muslim north. The Ivory Coast has been ruled by Christian southerners since independence, and many northerners resent their lack of political power and suggestions that they are not truly Ivorian, as the government has implied.
"I am a professional soldier, a member of the 3rd Battalion of the Army of the Ivory Coast, and I am no rebel," says Sgt. Dauda Konate, a red beret-clad rebel at a checkpoint outside Bouaké. "But when the government starts to say all foreigners are rebels, all outsiders are enemies of the government, then we must stand up and say no."
Refugees and evacuees say the rebels are well-organized and well-behaved. So far, they say, mutinying soldiers have attacked only military targets and, in several cases, have escorted citizens to safety. There are also reports that looting soldiers have been severely punished, even killed, by superiors.
Despite some reassuring actions of the rebels, the mood here is one of nervous anticipation. Fighting has so far been minimal, and reports of fatalities are unconfirmed. But many fear this is simply the calm before the storm.
"We're sitting here asking God to solve this problem," says Konate Souleymane, worker in Yamoussoukro. "We don't know what will happen now, but we are very afraid."
Food supplies in many occupied cities are running low and communications have largely been cut off.
"We Ivorians never knew war," Oulai Boniface Medard, the lone guard outside Yamoussoukro's now ghostly-quiet university, says sadly. Shaking his head, he adds: "But now we are fighting each other. Why?"