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Saturday, 28 September, 2002, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
French military helps Ivory Coast
Evacuees leaving a rescue helicopter at the Yamoussoukro airport
More than 2,000 people have been evacuated from Bouake
The French Government has agreed to a request from Ivory Coast for military assistance to tackle a revolt by mutinous soldiers.

France also supports the idea of a West African intervention force to help end the continuing violence, a statement from the French Foreign Ministry said.

"We are mobilised to guarantee the safety of the French community in Ivory Coast and we are also providing logistical support to the Ivory Coast authorities," the statement said.

But the French did not respond explicitly to a call from Ivorian Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan for France to intervene directly under a defence pact it signed with its former colony.

Rebel fighters at a roadblock in Bouake
Rebels are still in control of Bouake

The pact only applies if there is an attack from outside the country, and the French have already said they have seen no proof this is the case.

The disciplined and well-organised rebel soldiers who mutinied on 19 September are still holding the central city of Bouake, the country's second biggest, and a string of towns in the predominantly Muslim north.

French troops have already evacuated more than 2,000 foreigners from Bouake after fierce fighting there.

On Saturday clashes continued between loyalist Ivory Coast troops and mutinous soldiers near Tiebissou, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the capital Yamoussoukro, the French news agency AFP reported.

Plea for help

The French offer of help followed a direct request from the Ivorian prime minister earlier on Saturday.

French troops in the Ivory Coast
French troops have already assisted in the evacuation effort

In an interview for a French radio station, he said his country was fighting a war of occupation, and he did not want to lead his soldiers to the slaughterhouse.

But a French diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency that the French offer did not amount to an activation of the defence pact between the two countries.

So far France has said there is no compelling evidence the rebellion is foreign-backed, and therefore it is not obliged to invoke the terms of the agreement.

But the BBC correspondent in Ivory Coast, Paul Welsh, says the government there insists the rebels are armed with highly sophisticated weapons provided by a foreign government - which it claims is proof the country is being attacked from abroad.

Ghana summit

The French statement comes on the eve of a summit on the crisis to be held in Accra, Ghana.

During the meeting Ecowas, the organisation of West African states, will decide whether to commit any of its own peacekeeping force to Ivory Coast.

The French Government has backed a proposal by Ecowas to send a force of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers into the troubled country, the French ministry confirmed.

According to the BBC correspondent in Paris, Hugh Schofield, France is much more reluctant than it used to be to get sucked into the domestic problems of its former African colonies.

It is unclear if the Ivorian authorities have now provided information to prompt a more robust response from France, or if Paris has been stung into action by hostile press reaction in Ivory Coast, our correspondent says.

But he says that France clearly does not want to end up with a complicated and costly military commitment, which may explain its clear support for a mooted West African intervention force there.

The BBC's Paul Welsh
"People are leaving their homes"

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