Ivory Coast: October 9, 2002

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: As expected, the Ivory Coast lost it's opportunity for a ceasefire. President Gbagbo told ECOWAS on 6 October that both sides had moved too far from what was agreed at Accra, that his government would not be treated on the same footing as the rebels and that the insurgents must be disarmed before further debate. On the 5th, the mediators waited all day for the government to provide a document attesting to the signing authority of its representative, but it was never delivered. The delegates went home with the conclusion that "it's basically a problem for Ivory Coast - If they want outside support they have to invite us." 

Within hours, government troops were on the move. So were the rebels, apparently: unidentified saboteurs damaged the French television channels TV5 and Horizon transmitters in Abidjan overnight.

The rebels claim to have beaten back several loyalist local offensives launched on 6 October, chiefly around Bouake. An AFP correspondent found an army reconnaissance unit of five vehicles, including a pick-up with a heavy machine-gun, at Kouasiblekro (only four miles from Bouake) around 09:50. President Gbagbo's forces moved to seize the rebel-held city in a pincer movement from east and south around 13.00 local time. Fighting was still going on by mid-afternoon at a commando camp and at the city's southern entrance, reportedly punctuated with artillery fire.

The rebels at Korhogo (125 miles north of Bouake) dispatched a column of 40 vehicles loaded with men early on the 6th to reinforce Bouake's defenses, followed by 30 more troop-laden vehicles that afternoon.

About 100 rebels had been detailed to hunt down government infiltrators inside of Bouake, after capturing 100 suspected gendarmes who had slipped into the city overnight on the 5th/6th. The rebels taunted one loyalist prisoner with threats of "we are going to eat you".

Army sources admitted that over 400 loyalist troops in a convoy of 15 all-terrain vehicles (some fitted with 20mm cannons) were moving to Bouake. Ivorian military sources said that since the uprising broke out on 19 September, the army had acquired these cannon-armed four-wheel-drive vehicles and type-unspecified armored vehicles from Belgium (for $9 million), as well as night-vision goggles and sniper rifles. French troops near Yamoussoukro saw 300 Ivorian troops moving north on the night of the 5th, toward rebel-held areas. The government hasn't been doing well in the "Minds and Hearts" department. As loyalist troops moved out of Tiebissou, local residents emerged to discover that Ivorian forces had looted shops and restaurants. 

Gbagbo's forces also launched an offensive at Sakassou (25 miles from Bouake), moving unopposed from the East to within six miles of the outskirts. 

A rebel commander said his men had "violently repulsed" a 19-vehicle army column near the western town of Seguela (60 miles west of Bouake) late on the 5th, although the claim could not be independently verified. Government military officials could not be reached and the phone lines to Seguela were cut. 

Heavy weapons fire erupted on the morning of the 7th, near Bouake's commando camp and a sappers' camp. An AFP journalist reported a dozen wounded rebels being transported to hospital, while the rebels admitted losing two vehicles and two troops killed, with an unknown number of wounded. However, they claim to have captured an armored vehicle, an all-terrain vehicle with two machine-guns and a pick-up loaded with ammunition. The French and rebels reported that one government convoy apparently feared being encircled and left Bouake overnight, heading southeast. The rest of the loyalist units had pulled back by late afternoon on the 7th, vowing to take the city on the 8th.

The rebels promised their own counterattack on the 8th, although there was no mention of specific targets. Meanwhile, loyalist troops at Yamoussoukro's airport unloaded fresh ammunition from a foreign-registered aircraft onto new pickup trucks.

The columns on both sides seem to be ad-hoc units, reinforced with whatever heavy weaponry can be mustered up (there were only four 105mm howitzers in the country, before the mutiny). Most of the 'heavy stuff' will probably come from 106mm recoilless rifles and 120mm mortars. While some government armored cars were photographed in the first few days of the mutiny, none of the AMX-13s, AML-60/90s or ERC-90s have been reportedly engaged in the fighting.

The rebels also have their own PYSOPS capability, with the local traditional hunters known as Dozos. This secret society has magical overtones, which supposedly affords their members keen sight and amplified hearing. The locals believe that a Dozo cannot be killed by a bullet or knife, since his amulets prevent metal from entering his body. Dozos were frequently hired to guard vehicles, direct traffic or patrol religious sites.

Light skirmishing could be heard in Bouake's suburbs throughout the morning of the 8th, while bands of pro-rebel youths armed with sticks and iron bars roamed the streets in a hunt for loyalist infiltrators. - Adam Geibel


 

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