Ivory Coast: October 1, 2002


: What started as a coup attempt in the Ivory Coast is now a civil war. The Ivorian government has declared the center and north of the country a war zone. Over the 28-29 September weekend, rebel forces in the north advanced south towards the town of Tiebissou (only 26 miles north of the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro). Most of the gendarmes [government military police] in the rebels' path fled before they arrived.

Early on 29 September, French forces and helicopters backed by US C-130 transport planes and Hummers armed with .50 caliber machineguns evacuated 320 church and aid workers and other (mostly Western) foreigners from Korhogo. The operation was placed under French command and began at dawn, although the escort forces' arrival startled the rebels at Korhogo airport. Shots fired during the French helicopters' approach were met with 7.62 mm machine gun suppression fire, which caused the mutineers to run away. Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ange-Antoine Leccia described the event as "a minor accident". 

Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in Ghana the same day, ending their meeting with a pledge by the West African leaders to mediate between the government and the rebels. If these negotiations failed to end the conflict, the leaders agreed to dispatch a regional military force. On the night of the 28th, the French had promised logistical help but no troops for direct action.

Yet the rebels remain a curious force, having no known overall leader and claiming to have no ties to any political group or foreign nation. At least some of them are from the Ivorian Army's 3rd Battalion. However, many sources describe them as "disciplined" and all government counterattacks to date appear to have failed. One rebel commander, Tuo Fozie, told the press that he would resist any ECOWAS intervention as an attempt to deprive the rebels of success: "If Ecomog comes here, there won't be peace for 20, 30, 40 years. There must be justice".

The "white flight" from the Ivory Coast's north is cause for concern to those who remain behind and a complete about-face from Africa's independence days, when the locals cheered as Europeans fled as the new nation-states were being handed over to African rulers. Food supplies in many occupied cities were running low and communications largely cut off. Ivorian refugees attempting to leave Bouake were turned back by rebel checkpoints, although apparently without any violence. - Adam Geibel


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