Côte d'Ivoire
Ivorian troops fight to retake Bouaké

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President Laurent Gbagbo

Will not participate in peace conference

President Laurent Gbagbo

afrol News, 25 September - There are reports of heavy fighting in the central Ivorian city of Bouaké, where troops loyal to the government are trying to oust rebel soldiers in control since 19 September. Meanwhile, 200 US soldiers have arrived neighbouring Ghana to assist French troops in evacuating foreigners from Bouaké.

According to the latest reports from Bouaké, rebels are still in control of the city, which is Côte d'Ivoire's second largest and an important commercial hub. The awaited attack by loyal Ivorian government troops however seems to have begun.

According to an Ivorian journalist, trapped in a hotel in the centre of Bouaké, fighting was now intensifying. He told the 'World Today' that there had been hours of gunfire between the rebel soldiers and loyal government forces. There are still no reports of foreign troops participating in the retake of Bouaké.

Foreign troops are however building up. France has increased its military presence in Côte d'Ivoire by several hundreds troops and 200 US Special Forces members that have arrived in Ghana are bound for Côte d'Ivoire. 

These foreign troops are expected to play a significant part in the liberation of the large number of foreign citizens residing in Bouaké, which include an estimated 600 French and 200 US citizens. Some 160 American schoolchildren are also trapped in Bouaké.

Even if foreign troops may participate in the retake of Bouaké, officially France and the US are not siding with the government. "This violent crisis is an internal affair, and the concern of our political authorities is that our citizens as well as those of the international community don't pay the price," according to French army spokesman Christian Baptiste. Parallel explanations were given by the US military.

Meanwhile, there are increased critical international voices against the Ivorian government's militant reaction to what started as a limited mutiny among disgruntled soldiers. Although primarily criticising the rebels for having taken up arms, the UN, the African Union and several governments (including France) have urged Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Rebel spokesmen have said they were open to negotiations.

President Gbagbo however has promised a military retake of the growing area held by the rebels and his government is sliding into the vocabulary of war. This has included a censorship of the parts of the press likely to publish critical voices. Foreign broadcasters are jammed and oppositional newspapers have not appeared during the last days, the official explanation being the existing "state of war".

Another setback for a peaceful solution has been the postponement of an international conference in Morocco to discuss the crisis. Here, the Heads of State of Côte d'Ivoire and seven other countries of the region were to look at possible solutions to the conflict and the alleged role of neighbouring countries in the rebel assaults. Also the Ivorian reprisals against Burkinabe and Malian immigrants were to be debated. President Gbagbo however cancelled his participation.

Sources: Based on Ivorian govt, UN,  press reorts and afrol archives

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