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France Offers Aid to Ivory Coast as Rebels Advance

September 29, 2002|From Times Wire Services

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast — France pledged logistical help to its embattled former colony of Ivory Coast on Saturday, as rebels spread out over more territory and were within 26 miles of the administrative capital here.

At least 270 people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes since a failed coup attempt more than a week ago. The uprising has turned into a wider conflict and left swaths of northern Ivory Coast in the hands of rebels.

U.S. Special Forces and French soldiers settled into makeshift staging points for any rescue missions for their nationals, after overseeing an evacuation of thousands of Westerners from the rebel-held city of Bouake last week.

Mutineers in the north spread out along the western border Friday and Saturday, meeting little resistance as they moved into Odienne and then south to Touba, rebel and Western military officials said. Rebels were within about a dozen miles of Yamoussoukro. They said they aimed to march on the city and then head for the commercial hub of Abidjan.

President Laurent Gbagbo's government has repeatedly pledged to rout the insurgents. French authorities said Saturday that they had agreed to a government request for logistical help.

"We are mobilized to guarantee the safety of the French community in Ivory Coast, and we are also providing logistical support to the Ivory Coast authorities," a French Foreign Ministry statement said.

Details on the timeframe and type of support were not available.

Fearing the danger posed to their own countries from turmoil in what is the region's second-biggest economy, West African leaders will meet in Ghana today to discuss the crisis.

Defense Minister Moise Lida Kouassi said Ivory Coast is asking African friends, as well as France, for transportation, field communications, munitions and other supplies. But he said Ivory Coast was not seeking troop reinforcements or an intervention force.

"We believe that our own soldiers can liberate our territory from this aggression," he said.

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