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 Saturday, 28 December, 2002, 12:31 GMT
France bolsters its Ivory Coast troops
French armoured car aboard
Both sides have accused the French of backing the other
Some 300 reinforcements have arrived in Ivory Coast to bolster France's peacekeeping force in its former colony.

On Friday, French troops and rebels clashed for the third time in the west of the country.

French soldiers disembarking from
The French troops now have orders to shoot at anybody stopping them from enforcing a fragile ceasefire.

Hundreds of people have been killed and many thousands displaced during the three-month conflict.

Rebels control the mainly Muslim north, while the largely Christian south remains in government hands.

Recently, rebels have accused the French of backing the government but in the early days of the conflict, President Laurent Gbagbo complained that the French was not helping him put down the uprising.

Foreign Legion

After a 10-day sea journey, a French ship, Le Foudre has reached the main city of Abidjan, with helicopter gunships and other armoured vehicles.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Abidjan says the reinforcements take the total number of French troops to around 2,500.

Open in new window : Ivory Coast
Click here for pictures of the conflict

They include members of the Foreign Legion, paratroopers and cavalry.

On Friday, around 30 insurgents ambushed a French patrol as it was leaving the town of Duekoue in the country's western cocoa belt, Lieutenant-Colonel Ange-Antoine Leccia told the BBC.

The French soldiers fired back. There were no French casualties but there is no information from the rebel side.

UN envoy

The United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a "humanitarian envoy" to the former French colony on Friday.

Carolyn McAskie, a senior UN official, will be in charge of co-ordinating international assistance in the region.

French soldiers disembarking from
France now has some 2,500 troops in Ivory Coast

French soldiers were originally sent to Ivory Coast to protect more than 20,000 French citizens living there.

But France increased its military presence after rebels took two strategic towns near the country's western border with Liberia.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has proposed a plan to end the conflict, but our correspondent says it is unlikely to address the rebels' concerns.

Nationality certificate

The rebels want a change to the controversial system of deciding who is an Ivorian, which decides who can stand in elections or vote.

The president is suggesting a referendum which would decide who can stand for president, who can vote and who can own land.

Baby forced to flee her home
Thousands of people have fled their homes

But only those who are already Ivorians under the present system would be able to vote in the referendum - and that rules out most of the president's opponents.

Alassane Ouattara, who enjoys much of his support from northern Muslims, has twice been banned from contesting presidential elections on the grounds that his origins lie in neighbouring Burkina Faso.

The former prime minister says he is Ivorian and earlier this year was finally granted a certificate of nationality.

He has denied accusations that he is involved in the rebellion.

  The BBC's Paul Welsh in Abidjan
"They've come prepared for battle"

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21 Dec 02 | Africa
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