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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Rescuers 'secure' Ivorian school
Undated photo of the International Christian academy in Bouake where the children are holed up
Bouake: About 160 children are trapped in a school
French troops have reached the international school in the Ivory Coast town of Bouake where at least 160 children have been trapped by fighting.

The French force was sent to the town to evacuate Americans and Europeans caught in the middle of fighting between rebel soldiers and Ivorian government forces.

The French troops have received orders to evacuate students and teachers holed up at the school, France's armed forces headquarters said according to the French news agency AFP.

Heavy fighting has been reported in the town over the last two days, following its seizure by rebels following the military uprising against President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo on 19 September.

French troops
French troops have reached Bouake

News agencies reported on Wednesday afternoon that US troops had landed in Ivory Coast with orders to rescue US citizens caught up in the fighting.

The US forces had first flown to Ghana in three military planes carrying an estimated 200 troops and equipment.

The deployment - at the request of the US ambassador - comes as Ivorian army troops attempt to recapture Bouake.

A total of about 300 Americans and 600 French nationals are trapped in Bouake.

An Ivorian journalist trapped in a hotel in the town told the BBC's World Today programme that there had been hours of gunfire on Tuesday between the rebel soldiers occupying the town and government forces.

The rebels still controlled much of the town, he said, and were patrolling in vehicles.

Ivorian government radio reported on Wednesday that the first army operation in Bouake had been "a total success".

The radio report said, "the minister of defence has asked us to inform you that General Doue's men...have liberated the Ensoa, the national non-commissioned officers' school".

The radio said the army units had "successfully secured Kennedy, a district generally inhabited by Europeans".

Rescue mission

An official at the international school in Bouake was quoted by the Associated Press agency as saying that the French forces had arrived in numbers and secured the school campus.

The troops had moved up from the capital Yamoussoukro, where France had deployed several hundred troops with the aim of rescuing foreigners.

Heavy shooting had earlier been reported close to the Christian school. AFP said that some of the shooting appeared to have been aimed at the school.

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

A US Navy spokesman said the US troops being sent to West Africa were there to "assist in moving American citizens from the Christian Academy, where they are, to a safe location, still within Ivory Coast".

In an interview with the BBC, Lieutenant-Commander Donald Sewell said that the US forces were in West Africa, "to be in a closer position to be able to provide for the safety of American citizens".

He denied that they had a specific military operation planned but said that the US forces were in close contact with the French military units in Ivory Coast.

A French military spokesman told the BBC that the French troops were liaising with American and British officers in Abidjan.

The military uprising began last week when the rebels attacked in Abidjan and took control of Bouake and the northern town of Korhogo. The government quickly suppressed the uprising in Abidjan.

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

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

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Abidjan
"The children waved the stars and stripes"

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25 Sep 02 | Africa
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