afrol News, 22 September - According to Ivorian state television, at least 270 persons have been killed and over 300 wounded in the military uprising since Thursday. The bloodbath seems to continue as French forces are arriving Côte d'Ivoire to assist loyal government troops in retaking Bouaké, the country's second city.
Loyal government troops are advancing on Bouaké and Korhogo - the two cities in rebel hands. Gunfire has been reported by residents of both cities, although it was unclear if this had been produced by fights between loyal troops and mutineers. Fighting has also erupted at the small town Ouangolodougou, 55 km from the border with Burkina Faso and close to Korhogo.
The original mutiny by some "775 disgruntled soldiers" seems to be developing into an uprising in the Muslim north of Côte d'Ivoire, which is strongly opposed to the government of the southerner, President Laurent Gbagbo. Reports indicate that several northern villages have been taken by the rebels, which allegedly were received as liberators by cheering crowds. The government of Burkina Faso has confirmed that several border areas in Côte d'Ivoire were under rebel control.
The originally small group of rebel soldiers seems to have been able to recruit more followers among the northerners. According to news reports, rebels have been observed stopping young men in a poor district of Bouaké and handing out weapons. Reporters saw rebels empty one military store of arms yesterday morning, loading guns into a truck before leaving the town.
The Ivorian government however seems set to gain control of the situation as soon as possible. President Gbagbo, who cancelled an audience with Pope John Paul to hurry back to Abidjan, has promised "war" to oust the rebels from Bouaké and Korhogo.
The military aid of the former colonial power France was assured today, as army helicopters and troop reinforcements arrived. French troops could be used to "protect French citizens and other foreigners" in Côte d'Ivoire, the French Embassy in Abidjan reported. So far, 100 French soldiers had arrived from Chad to strengthen the country's presence of 500 troops in Côte d'Ivoire.
The Ivorian government is making further allegations of a Burkinabe involvement in the uprising, without naming names, though. A government spokesman mentioned "rough states that like to play policing" were supporting the rebels. Under President Gbagbo's rule, relations with Burkina Faso have cooled as the political opposition to him is centred in Ivorian ethnic groups also living in the northern neighbour and Burkinabe immigrants.
While the Burkinabe government has denied all charges of an involvement in the Ivorian uprising, the country has increased its southern border security. The official explanation given to this in Ouagadougou was however that it was made "to prevent any infiltration of elements who may be hunted down from Côte d'Ivoire."
Meanwhile, the rebels in Bouaké were showing signs of a willingness to negotiate. A rebel spokesman, Sergeant Alfred Camin, had told the news agency Reuters in Bouaké that: "We mutineers are ready to negotiate under the aegis of France... We want to avoid a bloodbath in Côte d'Ivoire." France has also urged the Ivorian government to negotiate with the rebels.