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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
US sends troops to Ivory Coast
French troops in Ivory coast
The French are keen to encourage negotiations
The United States is sending troops to Ivory Coast to help protect US nationals there following days of hostilities between government troops and mutinous soldiers.

The deployment - at the request of the US ambassador - comes as Ivorian army troops try to recapture the city of Bouake, which was seized by the rebels last week.

Heavy shooting has been reported close to a Christian school housing some 160, mainly American, schoolchildren.

A US Navy spokesman said the troops would "go there and assist in moving American citizens from the Christian Academy, where they are, to a safe location, still within Ivory Coast".

The BBC has learned it is expected to involve fewer than 200 mainly US army personnel.

France has already reinforced its military presence in the country - its troops are ready to evacuate foreigners.

The bloody military uprising began last week when the rebels took control of Bouake and the northern town of Korhogo.

Three national African football teams who were competing in a tournament are also trapped in a hotel in Bouake.

Rebels say they are protesting at plans to expel them from the army. The government has accused them of trying to stage a coup.

No evacuation

About 300 Americans and 600 French nationals are trapped in Bouake and hostilities were reported to be metres away from the Christian school.

"Lots of the children are frightened," the school's administrator, Michel Cousineau told AFP news agency from the school.

Mr Cousineau said three military trucks carrying 60 soldiers were outside the school.

"They are sweeping the area and firing shots from time to time. Gunfire is going on in the distance, and it's heavy at times," he said.

It is not clear how many troops the US European Command is sending to Ivory Coast.

Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Don Sewell said the forces would "ensure the safety of our American citizens".

But, he said, "this is not an evacuation".

French role

France - the former colonial power - has reinforced its military presence in Ivory Coast and its troops are on standby to help evacuate foreigners.

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

Some 250 soldiers, with armoured vehicles and helicopters, have set up a base in the capital, Yamoussoukro, though they are still some 100 km away from Bouake, where there are thought to be about 600 French and 300 Americans.

France has agreements with the Ivory Coast to help restore order if necessary, but is keen to avoid having to stage a rescue operation.

Diplomacy

On the diplomatic front, leaders of half a dozen African countries are expected to meet in Morocco on Thursday with the aim of finding a solution to the crisis.

Man from migrant workers district in Abidjan walks past blazing home
There have been reprisals against migrants
Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has been invited. A representative of France is expected to attend the meeting, which could include the leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Togo.

France is trying to get the government of its former colony to open talks with the rebels.

As well as Bouake, the rebels hold another city - Korhogo - and other parts of the north.

The government still say they are preparing to retake it all, beginning with Bouake.

Ouattara

In Abidjan, main opposition leader Alassane Ouattara accused the paramilitary police of trying to kill him in the early hours of the uprising last Thursday.

Alassane Ouattara
Ouattara returned from exile in November last year
"It's clear they are using this situation to try to liquidate and eliminate people in my party," he told AP news agency from the French embassy, where he fled.

Mr Ouattara's supporters are mainly Muslim northerners and have often clashed with President Gbagbo's mostly Christian followers from the south.

Mr Ouattara said several members of his party had been arrested in recent days and he had told senior party officials to go into hiding.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Paul Welsh reports from Abidjan
"The main city, Abidjan, is still troubled"

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See also:

22 Sep 02 | Africa
24 Sep 02 | Africa
24 Sep 02 | Africa
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