Ivory Coast: September 28, 2002


: The Italian Catholic news agency MISNA reported on 27 September that rebel forces in the Ivory Coast had attacked and conquered Odienne, 500 miles north west of Bouake and close to the Guinea border. Norwegian missionaries in the city were requesting evacuation.

The rebels in Bouake said they beat off a government assault during the night of 25-26 September and captured an army truck. Their commander is former Warrant Officer Tuo Fozie, who fled the Ivory Coast into exile in 2000. Fozie told journalists that General Guei (killed on 19 September) had had nothing to do with the uprising. Neither had opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister who took refuge with the French ambassador after claiming that Ivorian security forces had tried to kill him. Ouattara's home was torched by security forces early on the 22nd. The mutineers have demanded that all soldiers in exile be allowed to return and that those in prison be freed. 

In response to his request for a regional peacekeeping force, West Africa's leading powers assured President Laurent Gbagbo they would stand with him. Nigeria had already dispatched 60 troops, in addition to three Alpha jets. It's in the neighborhoods' best interest, since the Ivory Coast is sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest economy, the catalyst for the French-backed West African CFA franc currency zone and a vital port for the landlocked countries to the North. At the Ghanaian border town of Elubo, 125 miles away from fighting, thousands of dollars in revenue and taxes were being lost each day articulated commercial cargo trucks sat idle.

The Ivory Coast also produces 40 percent of the world's cocoa crop. News of the fighting pushed cocoa futures above 16-year highs and on the 27th traders said that if fresh beans did not come on the market in the next two months, the situation would be "catastrophic". 

Refugees entering the Malian border town of Zegoua reported that the rebels controlled many towns in the North. One man claimed that the rebels, finding children aboard his bus, filled the tank with gas and escorted it to the border. When they requisitioned something (like the fuel at a gas station in Korhogo), they paid in new bank notes rather than simply looting it. However, the rebels did sack an arms depot in the Ivorian town of Nielle (40 miles from the Malian border) on the 22nd. 

The last French military vehicle left the rebel-held city of Bouake around 14.30 GMT on the 27th, after the troops had escorted out all foreigners who wanted to leave (750 that day following the 1200 foreigners on the 26th). With approximately 20,000 French citizens in the country, the 200-man French escort unit was drawn from the 500 men of the 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion (based in Port Bouet adjacent to the Abidjan Airport), which had been reinforced on the 22nd by an additional 250 men flown in from other French African garrisons. This column then took up a covering position only 12 miles to the East (near the town of Brodo) to make sure things didn't get out of hand, while other French troops secured the airport at Yamoussoukro and other sites.

The Ivorian government has had about 2,000 troops (back by tanks and armored cars) outside Bouake since the 19th. According to America's State Department, the Ivorians had the majority of their Army in the First Military Region concentrated in and around Abidjan, its principal units there being a rapid intervention battalion (airborne), an infantry battalion, an armored battalion, and an air defense artillery battalion. The Second Military Region (located in Daloa) is assigned one infantry battalion. 

The Third Military Region (headquartered in Bouake) was home to an artillery, an infantry, and an engineer battalion. The Fourth Military Region maintained only a Territorial Defense Company headquartered in Korhogo. The fifth region is the Western Operational Zone, a temporary command created to respond to the security threat caused by the civil war in neighboring Liberia. 

Like many African wars of the recent past, the fighting style of both government and rebels can best be described as "medieval": a mob nominally resembling a unit, in a mix of civilian clothes and military uniforms but all heavily armed, descend upon a target (or hold a position) while kicking out as much fire as they can, for as long as the ammunition on hand lasts. Retirement points seem to be awarded for those who show the most attitude and firing postures worthy of a music video. Sometimes a show of force (by simply firing their weapons in the air and yelling) is enough to get the other side to displace - one rebel unit was able to force a dozen government border guards at the border town of Pogo to turn tail on the 22nd this way. - Adam Geibel


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