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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Analysis: Ivory Coast rebel mystery
A rebel stands with a crowd chanting anti-government slogans
The ultimate aims of the rebels are far from clear

On 19 September a group of soldiers took up arms against the Ivory Coast Government. But who are they and what are their goals?

When it comes to identifying the rebels and understanding their ultimate aims, there are more questions than answers.

Residents of Bouake
Residents of Bouake were forced to flee the rebel-held area
One of the best indications from the insurgents themselves came from a man who called himself "Corporal Kwasi," interviewed by telephone on the BBC African Service.

He said the rebellion had been started "because the current regime is a dictatorship".

"They used us [in the army] for three years and now they want to sack us," he added.

When the late General Robert Guei was in power in 2000, he recruited a number of extra soldiers - perhaps as many as 1,000. This year, however, the government of President Laurent Gbagbo decided they were surplus to requirements.

Foreign backing

"Corporal Kwasi" declined to say who the leader of the rebellion was, but he denied they had any foreign backing.

He also denied that their movement was an attempted coup.

But the simultaneous attacks on Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo appeared to suggest something more than just a mutiny. When the government said it was facing an attempted coup, it rang true.

A French soldier in Bouake
French troops have intervened in the recent violence
General Guei was accused by the government of masterminding the attacks. But, a day after they started, his dead body was found in the streets of Abidjan.

Members of his family denied he had anything to do with the attacks and claimed that he had been assassinated by government troops.

More recently, the government in Abidjan said the rebels were mercenaries controlled by a foreign state.

Although the country was not named, the allegation was widely understood to mean neighbouring Burkina Faso.

'Oppression'

Ivory Coast and Burkina have for many years had strained relations because of what Burkina perceives as the oppression of fellow Muslims in its southern neighbour.

Rebel fighters at a roadblock in Bouake
Rebels are still in control of Bouake
The main Ivorian opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara - a Muslim - has in the past been accused by the Abidjan government of being Burkinabe. This has prevented him from standing in elections.

But it seems unlikely that Mr Ouattara is involved with the rebels. When they first made their move he was in his house in Abidjan, unprotected from a mob which forced him to flee to the French Embassy.

His exposed private residence in Abidjan would hardly be a sensible place to be if he had had any forewarning of what was about to happen.

The Ivorian Prime Minister, Pascal N'Guessan, said on 26 September that the rebels included both English and French-speakers. This would not be surprising, because West African mercenaries - if that is what they are, according to other government allegations - come from various parts of the region.

But the political implication of accusing English speakers would imply that these particular mercenaries come from the war zones of Sierra Leone or Liberia.

In terms of domestic Ivorian politics, the implications of the rebels taking the north are explosive.

There is a north-south split in Ivory Coast based on religion. Mr Ouattara's opposition party is a northern, Muslim-based group, but the taking of the north does not necessarily mean the rebels are northerners.

They may have decided to take this area because they perceived it as having a disaffected population ready to accept an anti-government force.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The French operation in Bouake was swift and successful"

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27 Sep 02 | Africa
27 Sep 02 | Africa
26 Sep 02 | Africa
25 Sep 02 | Africa
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