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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Group 'admits Ivorian coup plot'
French soldier in western Ivory Coast
France has 4,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast

A group of suspected mercenaries and their backers arrested in Paris have admitted plotting to assassinate the President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, French prosecutors say.

The 10 men, arrested at the weekend, are due to be placed under judicial investigation in Paris for association with a terrorist group and for recruiting mercenaries.

Among the suspects is Ibrahim Coulibaly, a former army sergeant who led a successful coup in Ivory Coast in 1999.

Tribute

President Gbagbo thanked France for its prompt action at a time when he said there were rumours of a resumption of hostilities.

In a nationally-televised address, Mr Gbagbo said the plotters had intended to assassinate him and his principal supporters in the power-sharing government.

I remain convinced that we must, no matter what the cost, remain on the path to peace, upon which we are sincerely engaged
President Gbagbo

"It is time to address our hearty thanks to the French authorities at the highest level, whose precious help permitted us to scuttle this enemy project to destabilise our country," Mr Gbagbo said.

A presidential spokesman said former rebel groups had been behind the conspiracy. But they denied this, accusing Mr Gbagbo of attempting to deadlock the fragile peace process in the country.

Peace pledge

Both sides have reiterated their commitment to peace.

"I remain convinced that we must, no matter what the cost, remain on the path to peace upon which we are sincerely engaged," Mr Gbagbo said.

Ivorian rebel
Rebels say they remain committed to peace

On Monday, two French soldiers were killed in a clash with former rebels in Ivory Coast.

They are the first French soldiers to be killed in combat in Ivory Coast since France sent 4,000 troops to the country to monitor a peace agreement it brokered in January.

The deal led to a new "government of unity" including representatives from rebel factions.

Former rebels of the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI) - now called the New Forces - were quoted as saying the reconciliation process was under threat and it was uncertain whether elections could be held as planned in 2005.

Mr Coulibaly played a key role in the 1999 coup that brought General Robert Guei to power, but he fled to Burkina Faso after Mr Guei's regime collapsed after elections in 2000.

Mr Coulibaly was also suspected of being one of the driving forces behind a rebellion in September last year that triggered the nine-month civil war.

Thousands died in the conflict and up to one million people were displaced.




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