French soldiers killed in Ivorian attack

The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Ivory Coast after the death of at least nine people, including eight French soldiers and a US citizen, in more violence in the West African nation.

    The W African country has been split in two since September 2002

    The meeting is to be held at 3.30pm (2030 GMT) on Saturday in New York.

    Called at France's request, the session is seeking a statement from the council.

    Earlier in the day, French forces destroyed two Ivory Coast warplanes in Abidjan in response to the devastating aerial assault against an army camp that killed eight of its soldiers and wounded 23 others, French defence officials said. A US national was also reportedly among those killed.

    In Paris, President Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of any other aircraft that violated the ceasefire and his office announced that two companies of troops were being rushed to the area to buttress the 4000-member French peacekeeping force.

    Fighter jets deployed

    In addition, Paris scrambled three Mirage fighter jets from Chad to Libreville in Gabon.

    Gbagbo's forces have attacked
    rebel targets in the north

    Fighting erupted between French and Ivorian troops at Abidjan airport, according to a French army spokesman, and skirmishes were also reported between Ivorian government troops and rebel forces near Bouake, where a UN spokesman said artillery exchanges could be heard.

    The slide towards renewed civil war in the former French colony as government forces bombarded rebel positions in the northern part of the country, drew a sharp rebuke from the African Union, which accused the government of going back on solemn agreements to work for national reconciliation.

    France said two Russian-built Sukhoi 25 Frogfoot fighter-bombers of the Ivorian air force hit a French encampment in the central rebel stronghold of Bouake, killing and injuring soldiers from its 4000-member Unicorn peacekeeping force.

    Divided nation

    Ivory Coast has been split in two since September 2002 when a northern insurgency broke out in the wake of a failed coup. UN forces patrol a buffer zone separating the rebel-held north and centre from the government-held south.

    France's Chirac ordered troops
    to destroy ceasefire violators

    The incident is the most serious involving French forces since Ivory Coast's former colonial power deployed 4000 troops alongside UN peacekeepers in the wake of the September 2002 unrest.

    President Laurent Gbagbo's armed forces began launching bomb attacks on rebel targets in the north of the country on Thursday, drawing fierce condemnation from other African leaders and the international community.

    The rebels on Saturday threatened to retaliate, increasing fears that the country could slide back into civil war.

    UN criticised

    French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Friday said that UN forces had halted a northbound column of government troops. But the Ivorian army has denied having deployed ground forces towards the north.

    She also criticised the early response by the United Nations on the ground, calling for a stronger mandate for the peacekeeping force.

    Angry demonstrators on Saturday attacked French troops based in the rebel-held western town of Man, accusing them of supporting the government raids and calling for them to leave Ivory Coast.



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