Ivory Coast: January 2, 2003

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Relations between the French peacekeeping force and the Ivorian Army were further strained when an Mi-24 gunship strafed civilians in the village of Menakro on 31 December. French troops at Beoumi said that the 11 villagers killed and unknown number wounded "were shot at as though they were rabbits." The fishing village, about 100 kilometers north of the capital of Yamoussoukro, sits on the shores of a large inland lake is also 40 kilometers behind the ceasefire line monitored by the French. The lakeside village is about 65 kilometers west of the rebel stronghold of Bouake, as well as an important ferry crossing between eastern and western Ivory Coast.

MPIGO rebels and Liberia looters also crossed over from Liberia early on 1 January and took everything of value not nailed down at an oil palm plantation near the village of Neka, 200 kilometers from the port of San Pedro. Many plantations in the cocoa-growing far west of Ivory Coast have been abandoned, where 40 percent of the world's supply of the cocoa beans are harvested. The Liberians have been having a field day of violence with the Burkina Fasian farmers in the area, stealing and killing at will. When government forces and foreign mercenaries recaptured Blolekin earlier in December, the rebels scattered into the bush and stopped farmers going to their plantations.

Diplomatically, this the country is stuck in a 'one step forward, two steps back' loop. President Gbagbo promised to win the war in his New Year's message of "lay down your arms and then we can talk", the day after the French had held peace talks with the rebels (who had even apologized for shooting at the peacekeepers). 

One bright spot was the rebels' release of American doctor William Foster, two French nationals, two Canadians and one Lebanese. Foster is a Lutheran doctor from a Missouri-based missionary order who was pressed into service by the MPIGO rebels to treat their wounded in late November. He had called authorities in mid-December, using a rebel phone, from the rebel-held western town of Toulepleu on the Liberian border (about 300 miles northwest of Abidjan).

An Abidjan newspaper had claimed that the State Department had decided to dispatch intervention forces stationed in Ghana, since the crisis broke out, to go in and look for Reverend Foster. The State Department also supposedly pressured the US ambassador to make the necessary contacts with both the government and the rebel groups, and tell them to either find the missing Baptist missionary or face American troops. Whether this was just typical wartime hyperbole, a planted story or just dumb luck, Foster was shaken loose. The six hostages were freed on 30 December. - Adam Geibel



 

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