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U.S. Children in Ivory Coast Cross-Fire

Africa: Gunfire erupts around boarding-school refuge of 100 American youths and other foreigners. None is hurt.

September 24, 2002|From Associated Press

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Heavy gunfire erupted Monday night at a school in Bouake where about 100 American children were taking refuge from a bloody military uprising in Ivory Coast, the school director said. French troops moved into the rebel-held central city and stood ready to evacuate foreigners if needed.

The U.S.-based director of a boarding school housing the young Americans--children of missionaries from across Africa--said rebels breached the walls of the school itself and fired briefly but furiously across the campus.

"It really was cross fire. Not shooting at the children, but a whole lot of ammo going and scaring the children to death," said James Forlines, director of Free Will Baptist Missions, who spoke from Nashville, Tenn., where he made hourly contact with the school. None of the kids was hurt.

Ranging from infants to 12-year-olds, the young Americans are among 200 foreigners holed up at the boarding school for children of missionaries in Bouake, a besieged city that has been in rebel hands since they launched a coup attempt four days ago. The uprising killed at least 270 people in its first days.

Residents said the shooting was brief, and rebel forces denied radio reports that the town in central Ivory Coast had been retaken by loyalist troops.

French troops with trucks and helicopters set up camp Monday at an airport outside the capital, Yamoussoukro, just 40 miles from Bouake.

Their mission: to ensure the safety of the French citizens and other Western nationals and, if necessary, to get them out. There are about 20,000 French nationals in the Ivory Coast.

The U.S. Embassy said Sunday it had no immediate evacuation plans for its nationals.

A half-dozen African leaders planned to meet Thursday in Morocco for a regional summit aimed at trying to restore peace. Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is among those invited, according to a statement issued by the presidential office of Gabon, the organizer.

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