afrol News, 24 September - US soldiers are leaving for Côte d'Ivoire to assist French and Ivorian troops in rescuing over thousand foreigner trapped in rebel-held Bouaké. Meanwhile, the once modest mutiny seems to develop into a large-scale armed uprising in the northern part of the country. The government speaks of an ongoing "war".
The United States are sending 200 Special Forces members from their base in Stuttgart (Germany) to assist the Ivorian government in cracking down on the uprising, initiated by some 750 mutineers. The US intervention comes as a quick response to the news that more than 100 American school children are trapped in a missionary school in Bouaké.
In an interrupted Ivorian government assault on Bouaké, the foreign children had been at risk. Also, the access to food and water in the central Ivorian city are threatened after several days of rebel occupation. US troops are to move the children to a safer location in Côte d'Ivoire, US government sources say.
Also, several hundred French soldiers are to participate in the liberation of foreign citizens trapped in Bouaké. The French colony - numbering at least 600 - is the largest non-African in the city, which is Côte d'Ivoire's second largest. The French government has confirmed that its soldiers have departed from the Ivorian capital, heading for Bouaké, 100 km further north. France presently has at least 600 troops in Côte d'Ivoire.
There are also four national football (soccer) teams among those trapped by the fighting in Bouaké. These include the teams from Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, due to participate in the Wafu Cup tournament, which has now been suspended. The players are reported to be well, living in a city hotel.
Meanwhile, reports from Bouaké are divergent. Rebel spokesmen claim they are in total control of the city, which, according to them, is calm. There are however claims of enduring gunfire and of at least one attempted government offensive.
The mutiny or uprising, which started on 19 September, so far has cost 300 lives, according to Ivorian estimates. The unrest started simultaneously in coastal Abidjan (the country's largest city), Bouaké and Korhogo (a northern opposition stronghold, close to Burkina Faso). While the mutineers were driven out of their strongholds in Abidjan within 24 hours, sporadic gunfire can still be heard in the city.
The rebel soldiers however seem to have established a base in the north of the country, streaming into several towns and villages from the strongholds in Bouaké and Korhogo. The border with Burkina Faso - allegedly supporting the rebels - was secured during the first days of the uprising. The small town Ouangolodougou, 55 km from the border with Burkina Faso, was taken by rebels on Sunday
According to UN sources, the town of Ferkessedougou, 50 km northeast of Korhogo, is now the scene of heavy fighting between loyal troops and attacking rebels. Ferkessedougou is holds the key to transports between Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
Some reports from northern Côte d'Ivoire indicate that the original mutiny is growing into a popular uprising against the southerner-dominated government of President Laurent Gbagbo, which is widely unpopular in the Muslim north. In several villages, the rebels allegedly were received as liberators by cheering crowds.
The rebels' number - originally said to be 750 army mutineers - has increased significantly over the last days. 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 also claims that an armed column entered the country from Burkina Faso to aid the rebels.
This has induced several government spokesmen to speak of an ongoing "war". Press freedom has been restricted - opposition newspapers have not appeared during the last days and foreign radio stations are jammed - with an official reference to the "state of war". The Ministry of Information insisted it needed to "manage the information in order not to spread death and disruption among the population."
The Ivorian government however hopes to revert these civil war trends by a growing international support. While French and US troops are to assist in the retake of Bouaké, African leaders assure their full support of the Ivorian government.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has announced an extraordinary summit of regional heads of state, to be held in Dakar, Senegal, on Saturday. "The heads of state and government will examine the situation prevailing in Cote d'Ivoire and contribute to the restoration of peace, stability and the return of constitutional order in that country," ECOWAS said in a statement.
Other international initiatives include a planned meeting of the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Senegal and Togo and King Mohammed VI of Morocco in Marrakech. There, a regional response to the crisis was to be discussed, but also the many reprisals against Burkinabe and Malian immigrants in Côte d'Ivoire were to be addressed.