Ivory Coast: May 23, 2003

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Troops in the Ivory Coast launched a combined operation to secure the west of the war-torn country bordering Liberia, with government units and selected rebel forces working with French and West African peacekeepers. While fighting between the army and rebels has tapered off since the truce three weeks ago, lawless elements on the western edge of the country have been raping and robbing civilians.

Led by two Ivorian officers in a four-wheel drive vehicle, a convoy of 115 trucks and armored vehicles (mostly French), carrying 400 troops clad in body armor, left the western town of Guiglo for the Liberian border town of Toulepleu. That morning, another convoy of rebels, ECOWAS and French troops left the western town of Duekoue (about 30 kilometers north of Guiglo and still under rebel control). Movement for Peace and Justice (MJP) chief Gaspard Dely was serving as a liaison officer for the rebels.

The plan is that both columns will extend the ceasefire line right up to the border, creating a "zone of confidence" in the west. The French and West African peacekeepers, along with rebel forces, will monitor the north and the Ivorian government soldiers will be in charge of the southern portion of the western frontier.

About 750 to 800 French troops are involved and the head of the French force in Ivory Coast, General Bruno Dary, will consider his operation a success if they arrived in Bangolo and Teapleu without firing a single shot. The operation would take between two and three weeks.

The long military convoys stunned locals along the road to Toulepleu and some expressed doubt that the French can quickly stop the chaos. - Adam Geibel

 

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