French, Ivory Coast Forces Battle
27 minutes ago World - AP Africa
By PARFAIT KOUASSI, Associated Press Writer
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - French troops clashed with soldiers and angry mobs Saturday after Ivory Coast warplanes killed eight French peacekeepers and an American civilian in an airstrike — mayhem that threatened to draw foreign troops deeper into the West African nation's escalating civil war.
Slideshow: Ivory Coast Unrest
After France retaliated for the airstrike, thousands of pro-government youths, some armed with machetes, axes or chunks of wood, took to the streets of the country's commercial capital, Abidjan. Crowds went door to door looking for French citizens and set fire to a French school, sending a pall of smoke over the city.
"Everybody get your Frenchman!" young men in the mob shouted to each others.
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session Saturday, with U.S. and French diplomats preparing a sharp warning to Ivory Coast's government. France quickly sent three Mirage fighter jets to West Africa and ordered more troops to Ivory Coast in response to the violence.
Hard-liners in Ivory Coast's military broke a more than year-old cease-fire, launching surprise airstrikes Thursday against rebel positions and vowing to retake the northern part of the country in rebel hands since the civil war began in 2002.
Government officials said Saturday's airstrike that hit a French peacekeeper position was an accident — but the violence highlighted the nationalist fervor in the pro-government south.
Many in the south resent the French troops, suspecting them of siding with rebels, even though the peacekeepers have protected government troops in the past. France has about 4,000 troops in Ivory Coast, and a separate U.N. peacekeeping force numbers around 6,000.
Saturday's violence began when government warplanes struck French positions at Brobo, near the northern rebel-held town of Bouake, in the afternoon, U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux said.
Eight French soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded, said Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau in Paris. An American citizen was also killed in the raid, the French presidency said, without providing details.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ergibe Boyd in Abidjan said they've been told of the death by the French but haven't confirmed it. She said the American was likely a missionary, since there is no U.S. military or diplomatic presence in the area.
In response, French infantry destroyed two Ivory Coast Sukhoi fighter jets on the ground at an airport in the capital, Yamoussoukro, 75 miles to the south, French military spokesman Col. Henry Aussavy said.
"Our forces responded in a situation of legitimate defense," Bureau, the spokesman, said. "Now the priority is the immediate end of combat."
France sent three Mirage fighter jets, due to arrive in nearby Gabon. and French President Jacques Chirac said he ordered the deployment of two more military companies to Ivory Coast.
Foreign Minister Michel Barnier demanded Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo act, saying Gbagbo must "clearly assume his responsibilities and the role that is his to return the country to calm — especially in Abidjan."
At the U.N. Security Council, the United States, which currently holds the council presidency, and France were drafting a presidential statement warning Ivory Coast's government to stop attacks immediately or face "serious consequences," council diplomats said.
In the violence in Abidjan, loyalist mobs tried to overrun a French military base near the airport. French troops fired in the air and lobbed tear gas at the crowd.
"French go home!" loyalist mobs screamed as they marched through the city. Mobs went house to house, seeking out French civilians, French military spokesman Henry Aussavy said.
At least three French families had called French authorities to say loyalist militias had stormed their homes, a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate word on any civilian casualties.
At the same time, Ivory Coast soldiers tried to destroy French aircraft at the airport itself, sparking clashes with French forces, a French spokesman, Jacques Combarieu, said. Combarieu said a French soldier was lightly injured and an airplane was lightly damaged before the fighting ended.
A senior member of Ivory Coast's government — Sebastien Dano Djeje, Cabinet member for National Reconciliation — said the bombing of the French position in the north "was a mistake. We didn't aim to hit them."
But then he questioned whether the government air force was really behind the strike. "But what proves it was Ivorian planes? We have to do an investigation," he told The Associated