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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Tactical French force flies to Abidjan
French troops
French troops have been evacuating Westerners
France is setting up a tactical base in Ivory Coast to provide logistical support to the Ivorian government as it tries to put down a rebellion by sections of the army.

About 70 officers and men are flying to an existing French military base near the country's main city, Abidjan.


France treats Africans like children

Rebel Paul Gohou

They will provide transport, radio sets and rations to the Ivorian army, in what a BBC correspondent says is a significant escalation of the role of the former colonial power in the country, but they are not committing soldiers to peacekeeping or combat.

On Tuesday, the rebels warned France against any involvement in the conflict.

"We warn the French because there might be anti-French feelings," a warrant officer, Paul Gohou, told the BBC's French service from Bouake.

"We ask them to remain neutral," he added.

'Surprised'

Mr Gohou said the mutineers had been surprised by France's attitude given, he said, their willingness to cooperate with the French when they evacuated westerners.

There are about 20,000 French nationals in Ivory Coast.

Mr Gohou said that while he understood that African countries wanted to send troops to Ivory Coast, he did not understand why France intervened.

Rebel fighter
The government has vowed to crush the rebels

"France treats Africans like children, including African leaders," he said, "but they are mature enough to settle their conflicts," he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of people demonstrated in rebel-held Korhogo on Tuesday against President Laurent Gbagbo and France which, they said, should "leave, or else...", the French news agency AFP reported.

Until now the French have stressed that the role of their military in Ivory Coast is to rescue westerners, not to intervene in the conflict.

Military assistance

France has had a permanent military presence in Ivory Coast since independence. The two countries are linked by a defence agreement signed in 1961, which provides for French support in case of foreign aggression.

But French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Monday that it was difficult to say if a foreign country, and which one, was behind the rebellion, which began on 19 September.

"There are a lot of elements mixed together, factors which are also internal, regional elements which may have an influence without one being able to point to the particular responsibility of a state," the minister told French radio.

The Ivorian authorities have accused a country in the sub-region, widely understood to be Burkina Faso, of masterminding the rebellion of parts of the army.

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

And an unspecified number of French foreign legion troops arrived overnight in Bouake, the French news agency AFP quoted an unidentified source as saying.

Fears for region

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

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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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Analysis
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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