The first freight train in eight months left Abidjan, carrying cement and fertilizer to the rebel-held north of the country. Radical anti-rebel youth groups ripped up a small section of the track in central Abidjan in the morning, hoping to prevent the train from leaving. Railway officials eventually got the diesel engine hauling three flatbed wagons moving with a military escort that night, after the line had been repaired.
The 638 km long French-owned SITARAIL railway links the port of Abidjan with landlocked Burkina Faso to the north. This freight train only went as far as Ferkessedougou, near the Burkinabe frontier. The railway normally carries most of Burkina Faso's imports and exports, as well as the oil imports to Mali and Niger.
Most of SITARAIL's 1,062 employees were laid off without pay since the trains stopped running in September 2002. Regular service should resume by the end of May. - Adam Geibel
Without good road networks, railways are an important economic lifeline in many African countries. Controlling or cutting them can figure heavily in any conflict.