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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Ivory Coast rebels refuse to disarm
Foreign residents watch as their homes are bulldozed
Hundreds of foreigners have had their homes destroyed
Mutinous soldiers in Ivory Coast have rejected a call by President Laurent Gbagbo to disarm ahead of negotiations.

A spokesman for the rebels said that Mr Gbagbo only made his first direct appeal to them after failing to oust them from the second city of Bouake.


We are happy because the atmosphere has been quite tense in the Burkinabe community

Burkina Faso businessman
However foreigners have welcomed his call to end xenophobic attacks.

African immigrants, especially from neighbouring Burkina Faso, have been attacked and robbed after the government initially said that foreign powers were behind last month's attempted coup.

Ivory Coast is the richest country in West Africa and up to a third of its inhabitants are of foreign origin, after years when immigrants were officially encouraged to work in the country's cocoa and coffee plantations.

'Relief'

"It goes straight to our hearts, we have been very surprised by his speech," a Burkinabe businessman in Abidjan, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told BBC News Online.

Rebels in Bouake
The rebels are still in control of Bouake

"We are happy because the atmosphere has been quite tense in the Burkinabe community for a few days now, so there is a sense of relief," he said.

He said that many Burkinabe nationals had been treated like attackers, and that the community had been increasingly frightened.

Many were trying to leave for Burkina Faso, but it was very difficult - they have to go via Ghana - and very expensive.

The opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, who sought refuge at the French embassy in Abidjan at the beginning of the uprising, would not comment on President Gbagbo's address when he was contacted by the BBC's French service.

No trust

"He is playing games and I don't trust what he says," said Bouake's rebel commander, Warrant Officer Tuo Fozie.

"We're not going to lay down our weapons before negotiations."

Foreigners in Ivory Coast
Burkina Faso: 2.3m
Mali: 792,260
Guinea: 230,390
Ghana: 133,220
Benin: 107,500
Niger: 102,220
Nigeria: 101,360 Source: 1998 census

Despite a week of talks organised by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a ceasefire agreement was not signed last weekend.

However Ecowas secretary general Mohamed ibn Chambas told the BBC that he had not given up trying to end the fighting.

The BBC's correspondent in Ivory Coast, Paul Welsh, says rebels still control Bouake, the second-largest city, despite government claims that it had been recaptured.

They control around half of the country, mostly in the largely Muslim north, reports the French news agency, AFP.

Unaccounted for

In his national address on Tuesday night, Mr Gbagbo struck a noticeably conciliatory tone towards foreigners, following complaints by neighbouring countries about attacks on their citizens in Ivory Coast.

"I want to tell Ivorians that the foreigners are not our problem right now. Our fight is a fight to free our country and not to attack foreigners," Mr Gbagbo said.

"Do not attack foreigners," he added.

And Mr Gbagbo made a particular appeal to his countrymen urging them not to attack the French.

The French ambassador earlier criticised the Ivory Coast state media for being anti-French and anti-foreigner.

He accused them of encouraging attacks on those from abroad.

French citizens have been targeted by many of the president's supporters after opposition leader Alassane Ouattara was given shelter in the French embassy after he claimed an attempt was made on his life by government forces.

More than a thousand French citizens and other westerners were evacuated from Bouake by French forces following the uprising.

Dozens of Ivorian nationals, including politicians and ordinary citizens, have been in custody for the last two weeks, according to the Ivorian Human Rights Movement.

Its vice president, Ibrahima Doumbia, told BBC News Online that many other people were unaccounted for.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"The Ivorian government is clearly feeling under threat from all sides"
Emmanuel Goujon, on Focus on Africa from Bouake
"They want to negotiate on equal terms with the president without laying down their weapons "

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