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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
French troops in Ivorian capital
Man carries possessions from his home in Abidjan
Many residents' houses have been destroyed
French troops have reached the Ivory Coast's capital, Yamoussoukro, as they seek to protect French and other foreign nationals caught up in a coup attempt which began on Thursday.

The convoy of dozens of vehicles left the main Ivorian city of Abidjan late on Sunday, hours after France had flown up to 200 reinforcements, drawn from its other bases in West Africa.

France describes the move as a "precautionary measure", and it is thought the troops will set up a forward base to be able to stage evacuations, if necessary, from nearby Bouake, Ivory Coast's second city, which on Monday morning still remained in rebel hands.

There are growing concerns for about 150 children, most of them American - trapped in the basement of a boarding school in Bouake - a city of some 500,000 people.

The national football teams of Senegal, Sierra Leone and Gambia are also trapped in Bouake. The hotel they are holed up in has little water and food left.

Ivorian officials say 270 people have been killed and 300 wounded in insurgency so far.

The rebels in Bouake and in the northern city of Korhogo appear to have ignored government demands for them to surrender in return for an offer of talks.

Abidjan is now quiet, but in Bouake rebel soldiers said on Sunday that they had beaten off a heavy attack by loyalist troops.

No intervention

Some 20,000 French nationals are thought to live in the former French colony.

Ups and downs
Before 1999 - Relative calm and stability
1999 - Coup; General Guei takes power
2000 - Guei flees after rigging elections;
Gbagbo wins controversial elections
2001 - coup attempt fails
2002 Troops mutiny, Guei killed

France has agreements with the Ivory Coast to help restore order if necessary.

But the BBC's West Africa correspondent, Paul Welsh, says for now it seems unlikely that they will become directly involved.

In Abidjan, a spokesman for the main opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, said Mr Ouattara's house had been destroyed by government soldiers, but that Mr Ouattara was safe inside the French embassy.

French army spokesman Christian Baptiste said: "This violent crisis is an internal affair, and the concern of our political authorities is that our citizens as well as those of the international community don't pay the price."

But our correspondent says the reinforcement of the French garrison is also designed to send a message to the rebels that it is time to negotiate.

Olive branch

Following a national address by President Laurent Gbagbo which hinted that the rebels had been aided by a foreign power, hundreds of foreigners' homes in the Abidjan were burned down and thousands of people packed up and took to the road in search of safety.

Defence Minister Moise Lida Kouassi told the BBC that the army's only aim was to regain control of territory from rebels.

Prime Minister Pascal Affi Nguessan offered an olive branch to rebels in a televised address on Saturday evening.

The President of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo
President Gbagbo accused foreign nations of helping the rebels

Despite earlier threats of "no negotiations" from the president, Mr Nguessan said the government was prepared to examine the grievances of the rebels if they laid down their arms and surrendered the areas they held.

Thursday's uprising began with co-ordinated attacks on military installations, government sites, and cabinet ministers' houses in Abidjan and other cities and towns.

The man the government has blamed for the uprising - General Robert Guei - who seized power in a 1999 coup - was killed.

Foreign news stations, including the BBC, have been taken off the air in Ivory Coast.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Abidjan
"The government believes... Burkina Faso was behind the coup"
Ecowas executive general Doctor Ibn Chambas
"Cote D'Ivoire is very critical to the general stability of our subregion"
Emmanuel Coudjon on Focus on Africa
"The action of the French forces is to protect French nationals"

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See also:

22 Sep 02 | Africa
19 Sep 02 | Africa
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