Ivory Coast: March 8, 2003


French troops repulsed attacks by small swarms of rebels in western Ivory Coast, only hours after the warring factions signed a deal in Ghana to try to end the Ivory Coast's civil war. The French army said that groups of 15 rebels tried to punch through onto the main highway in the west, between Duekoue (towards a strategic river crossing) and the cocoa center of Daloa. 

All of the rebel efforts were repulsed and two French soldiers were lightly wounded. During the afternoon, about 50 French military vehicles (including nearly 30 armored personal carriers) headed toward the western front on the road between Guessabo and Daloa. French troops backed by at least four Gazelle helicopters running reconnaissance flights cleared the area around Duekoue while Ivorian troops maintained positions in the town.

The rebels claim that their attacks were a reaction to a Liberian "Lima Force" rebels (now based in Ivory Coast) attacked their positions in the western town of Bangolo on the 7th. The rebels wanted revenge against the Ivorian army, but the French army got in between. The French army detained about 110 men with guns and about 60 civilians fleeing from Bangolo into Duekoue that night. The detainees appeared to be Liberian members of the Lima Force.

Trouble for the French began brewing up earlier in the week. On March 5, the "Young Patriots" (supporters of President Gbagbo) ordered Ivorians to attack and burn any French military vehicles patrolling in Abidjan that are not accompanied by an Ivorian Army officer. This stemmed from a March 4 pro-government newspaper report that a rebel attack on Ivorian army positions at Zuenoula was preceded by French scouts and helicopter overflights. The Ivorians considered these actions direct aid to the rebels. The newspaper reported that the rebels suffered 'several dozen' casualties and even the French lost 46 troops killed, at the cost of one government soldier wounded. While presumably complete fiction, this is the 'truth' that at least half of the country is being fed by elements of their government.

Another newspaper noted almost daily confrontations between the French and the army, government security forces or civilians. One example was at 7 AM on March 3, when a patrol of 15 Frenchmen in two armored vehicles and a jeep attracted the attention of some villagers. The locals objected to the French moving through their community, without reason or justification. When confronted with questions about burying weapons (presumably for rebel use later), the French reacted with scorn. The locals set up road blocks, demanded the French dismount and then deflated their tires. When one of the Frenchmen pushed an old woman, fistfights broke out. The village's mayor and the Abidjan District governor were forced to board the French vehicles and spend nearly two hours calming the crowd down. - Adam Geibel


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