Ivory Coast: September 23, 2002


: The Ivory Coast is home to 20,000 French citizens, about 8,000 of those being dual- or tri-nationals (including a large Lebanese community). Residents of Bouake said they heard heavy and automatic weapons firing around 18:45 on the 22nd, but a French businessman told AFP later in the evening that all was calm. 

While quibbling about joining in on a war on Iraq, 6,000 troops in five ex-colonies remain on permanent guard in Africa; joint multilateral peacekeeping forces and ensure that defense pacts are adhered to. Contrary to it's earlier post-colonial period strategy, the French no longer provide African countries with military assistance but stand ready to intervene at any moment. Senegal and Chad each host about 1,000 soldiers each, with 600 troops in Gabon and 2,700 in Djibouti. In a crisis, these troops can be brought in as reinforcements much faster than if they were stationed in France and with greater flexibility in terms of sending equipment and vehicles.

Some of the Transall C-160 transports used to fly the 200 French reinforcements to Abidjan went on to wait on standby in nearby Senegal and Gabon, ready to return at a moment's notice. The main worry for French authorities in such situations is when French nationals get caught in crossfire between rival forces. 

Government state television announced on the night of 21 September that 270 people had been killed since the coup started, with another 300 wounded. After initially refusing to negotiate with the mutineers, unless they surrendered, Prime Minister Pascal Affi NGuessan offered to negotiate with the mutineers, if they laid down their arms. 

By accusing foreigners of backing the coup attempt, the government has sparked off a wave of anti-foreign violence. Gangs of pro-government youths armed with machetes were reportedly roaming the streets of Abidjan, targeting foreigners from predominantly Muslim neighboring countries.

Once considered a peaceful country that welcomed millions of immigrant workers to build up the nation after it's independence from France in 1960, up to 40 percent of the 16 million population is now foreign. The immigrant issue has fueled political, religious and ethnic divisions between the largely Muslim north versus the predominantly Christian south and west. These splits were kept under control by the country's post-independence president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny until he died in 1993. Rampant xenophobia became commonplace afterwards. - Adam Geibel

The US State Department urged Americans to avoid travel to Ivory Coast for the next 30 days. The rebels do not appear to be numerous (fewer than a thousand armed men in two cities). But the army has been reluctant to attack, if only because the enormous damage that would result, as well as civilians caught in the cross fire (many of the rebels are wearing civilian clothes.)


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