France to help in Ivory Coast

France has agreed to conduct joint patrols with Ivory Coast's army in an effort to restore calm after deadly clashes involving security forces and protesters, the West African country has announced.

    The clashes were the worst since the civil war ended in June 2003

    The government in the world's top cocoa grower also said on Thursday it backed an international investigation into last week's violence following widespread accusations that security forces and loyalist militia killed unarmed opposition supporters.

    The government appeared to be trying to regain favor in the international arena, where it has been widely criticised recently by human rights groups and Western governments, including former colonial power France.

    Last week's clashes in the main city Abidjan were a low point in efforts to build peace after a civil war was declared over in July. The country remains politically polarised and divided between the rebel-held north and government-run south.

    "The president of the republic, in agreement with the prime minister ... has asked France and (West African peacekeepers) MICECI to help the defense and security forces assure security," Internal Security Minister Martin Bleou said.

    "France has just given its agreement," he told state television.

    First step

    The top UN representative in Ivory Coast welcomed the announcement. The world body is due to take command of some 1400 West African troops in the country as the first step in creating a larger peacekeeping mission, which starts on Sunday.

    At the United Nations in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that 10 countries would provide military personnel: Bangladesh, Benin, France, Ghana, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Senegal, Togo and Ukraine.

    Annan's letter named Gen. Abdoulaye Fall of Senegal as commander of the force, authorized to reach 6240 personnel.

    The 4,000 French troops in the country will not become part of the UN force, but their mission is authorized by the Security Council. But France will dispatch a 170-member engineering company, about 10 police and officers for a headquarters staff to the UN mission.

    Ivory Coast's conflict has pitted supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo from the richer, mainly Christian and animist south against people from the poorer mainly Muslim north of the country and the recent violence has heightened tension between the communities. 

    Last week's killings came after opposition supporters tried to defy an official ban to march against Gbagbo.

    Morgue officials have said at least 104 people were killed in the city. Police have given a death toll of 37, including two policemen, while the opposition says more than 300 people were killed - mostly in reprisal killings after the aborted march.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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