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Sunday, 15 December, 2002, 01:36 GMT
French troops arrive in Ivory Coast
French soldier watching fleeing civilians
French troops have exchanged gunfire with rebels
The first contingent of reinforcements for the French military mission in Ivory Coast has arrived, according to military officials, despite a threat by the country's main rebel group to fight against them.

The French news agency, AFP, said 150 paratroopers had landed at the international airport in Abidjan.


Our job is not to take back the north

Ange-Antoine Leccia, French military spokesman
France has broadened the mandate of its soldiers in Ivory Coast, authorising them to enforce - rather than just monitor - an October ceasefire between government forces and the rebels who now control the north of the country.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) Guillaume Soro accused the troops of deviating from their peacekeeping mission, and demanded their withdrawal.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan says the MPCI believes the French are taking sides with the government.

French job

The 1,200-strong French deployment is to be boosted by 500 troops in all.

French military spokesman Ange-Antoine Leccia said Saturday's was just the first company to be sent to Ivory Coast.

Ivorians hoping to join army
Both sides have been recruiting
The others, he said, would arrive over the next 10 days," by sea and air.

The French spokesman has described the rebel threat as "political comments" to which France had no response.

But Lieutenant Colonel Leccia said the troops would not try to recapture the northern half of the country from the rebels.

"Our job is not to take back the north," he said, adding that the additional troops would be deployed along a "line of non-engagement".

Refugee influx feared

At least 400 people have been killed since the uprising by disgruntled soldiers, and hundreds of thousands displaced by the fighting.

. Since then, new rebel factions have emerged in the west of the country.

A quarter of a million people have now been displaced by the worsening war in Ivory Coast - half to neighbouring countries.


The MPCI will be invited to Paris, if it shows itself to be a political force

Francois Rivasseau,
French Foreign Ministry

The United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees and the regional director of the UN's World Food Programme have made special visits to the country to oversee preparations for the all-out civil war.

The UN refugee agency says it will begin evacuating people from neighbouring countries who had fled to Ivory Coast for safety.

Liberian refugees say they would prefer to go back to their war-torn country rather than stay in Ivory Coast.

Talks fail

As part of efforts to end the war, France has also said it will call a summit in Paris of all Ivory Coast players, as well as African leaders involved in the crisis.

"The MPCI will be invited to Paris, if it shows itself to be a political force," French foreign ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said on Friday.

Seven Ivorian political parties have signed a document in which they call for the liberation of the rebel-held zones and urge respect for constitutional legality and territorial integrity.

MPCI rebels condemned the meeting, and suspended their participation in the Togo peace talks.

The presidents of Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Togo are due to meet on Monday to try to take the talks forward.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The French are being dragged into this war"

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See also:

12 Dec 02 | Africa
09 Dec 02 | Africa
08 Dec 02 | Africa
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