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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Mediators seek end to Ivorian clashes
French troops
French troops have been evacuating Westerners
African mediators hope to go to a rebel held town, such as Ivory Coast's second city Bouake, on Tuesday as they seek to end the fighting.

Foreign ministers from Ghana, Togo and Nigeria, who met Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo late on Monday night, say they are willing to go anywhere in the search for peace.

A spokesman for the group told Reuters news agency that they had made contact with the rebels, but a rebel leader - Tuo Fozie - is reported to have said he was still waiting to be contacted.

Meanwhile, both the government and the rebels reported heavy fighting at Tiebissou, 40km north of the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro.

On Monday, hundreds of wooden shacks in a wealthy Abidjan suburb were torched by troops, uprooting scores of poor immigrant workers.

Local officials said they were "cleaning" the district as part of the hunt for rebels.

Rebels remain in control of northern and central parts of the country and correspondents describe them as disciplined and well armed.

Fears for region

The mediation group is seeking to prepare the way for five West African heads of state to visit Ivory Coast to start negotiations.

Rebel fighter
The government has vowed to crush the rebels

On Sunday, West African leaders agreed to send a buffer force to Ivory Coast if mediation between the government and rebel troops fails.

If those negotiations failed, the regional bloc would send in a buffer force, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade said, adding that up to 4,000 peacekeeping troops could be mobilised for the mission.

Regional countries want to stop the rebellion from turning into a regional conflict - as was the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

French and American troops have evacuated hundreds of foreigners from rebel held towns in the past week and French troops are now scouring rural areas for others wishing to leave.

Several hundred people have died in the mutiny, which began on 19 September.

Ethnic tensions

The uprising has revived ethnic and religious tensions between the mainly Christian south of the country and the Muslim north.

The government says it is preparing for a large offensive, to retake towns and cities.

But our correspondent says so far there has been little progress against the rebels on the ground.

France has already agreed to offer tactical and logistical help to its former colony.

The Ivorian authorities have said the rebels are mercenaries controlled by a foreign state - an allegation widely understood to mean its northern neighbour, Burkina Faso.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Aircraft built to carry troops to the front are being used to carry civilians from a warzone"
The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"The rebels have effectively put the northern half of the country beyond government control"
Kwaku Sekyi-Addo on Focus on Africa
"The mediation group may have to travel up North"

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See also:

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