The soldiers forced their way into the television building on Sunday in Abidjan and interrupted a live broadcast to make their statement. They also called on army chief of staff General Mathias Doue and top generals to resign.
“We are telling the whites to leave the front line…we have the means to get rid of them (the rebels)… in 48 hours we will liberate the country,” said an unnamed soldier sitting at a table in a red beret, surrounded by soldiers in fatigues.
“Your army is with you. This is not a coup d’etat. This is not a rebellion.”
It was unclear how big a following the group had within the army.
The incident occurred a day after French troops fired warning shots to disperse protesters marching with some Ivorian soldiers towards the rebel-held stronghold of Bouake, in the centre of the war-divided nation.
State television said six people were wounded and an armoured vehicle destroyed. The French army confirmed firing warning shots.
Tensions continue to grip the world’s top cocoa grower, still divided between a rebel-held north and a government-held south despite the formal end to a civil war which erupted after a failed rebel uprising last year.
French soldiers vowed to stay on
About 4000 French troops and 1300 West African soldiers are monitoring a truce and a no-weapons zone across the West African country. The war was declared over in July, but the peace process has been hobbled by mutual distrust.
The French army said they stopped Saturday’s protest at the request of the Ivorian authorities, and state television said Doue gave the orders to stop the march.
Kadet Bertin, an adviser to President Laurent Gbagbo, said it was up to the president to decide whether to keep Doue as chief of staff after soldiers demanded his resignation. However, he admitted that Doue “was not unanimously supported”.
Peacekeepers to stay
Deputy French army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe Aubenton said the “untimely” declaration by the soldiers could damage peace prospects, adding that they were awaiting Gbagbo’s reaction.
French military spokesmen said they would continue their peacekeeping mission despite the calls.
The television broadcast demanding their retreat appeared to be an isolated incident, they said.
“We have a mission to accomplish that was given to us by the United Nations,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Peillon, spokesman for the peacekeeping force.
In Paris, military spokesman Colonel Christian Baptiste said the officers’ demands were “irresponsible and inopportune”.
A French embassy official said he thought the soldiers making the statement were pro-Gbagbo. France’s ambassador was due to return to the former French colony on Sunday evening.
Gbagbo made a rare sortie towards the front line on Sunday and was shown on state television talking to troops in Alangouassou, a town to the east of rebel-held Bouake.
Rumours of attacks and a resumption of hostilities regularly shake the country. The rebels have not disarmed and many Gbagbo loyalists feel they should be driven out.