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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 04:54 GMT
'Blue helmets' plan for Ivory Coast
West African peacekeepers in Abidjan
A vanguard of West African troops has arrived
Regional leaders in West Africa have drawn up a plan to put all peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast under United Nations control.

President Abdoulaye Wade, of Senegal, said the proposal was for French troops already in Ivory Coast along with soldiers from the regional peacekeeping force to wear UN blue helmets and work together.

Senegal holds the rotating presidency of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

Mr Wade told a news conference in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, that regional efforts to resolve the Ivory Coast crisis had failed - but he was confident a peace conference in Paris next week would bring results.

I have ordered my men to advance, I cannot commit to stop fighting while Gbagbo keeps bombarding us

Felix Doh, rebel leader
The proposal came hours after rebels attacked French positions outside the cocoa-growing town of Duekoue, in the west of the country.

The French army said it had killed 30 rebels and nine of its soldiers had been wounded, one seriously, in two separate clashes.

The casualties are the first sustained by the French troops - sent to try to end the four-month civil war between government and rebels - apart from a single injury in November.

Peace talks

The leader of the rebels in the west of the country, Felix Doh, told the BBC he ordered his men on to the offensive after they were attacked by government troops on Sunday.

Dominique de Villepin
De Villepin brokered the peace talks
But the government denies having gone into battle against the rebels again.

One of the western rebel groups, the Popular Movement of Ivory Coast's Far West (MPIGO), initially said it was prepared to take part in peace talks later this month in Paris, but now says it will not be going.

The talks, which will open on 15 January, were brokered by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who met government and rebel officials last week.

The main rebel group, the Patriot Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI), still says it will go to the talks, in an effort to end the fighting which started in September.

About 2,500 French troops are currently in Ivory Coast.

They are enforcing the uneasy ceasefire between the government and MPCI, while holding back western rebels who do not consider themselves bound by the truce.

'Misunderstanding'

A total of 70 men on foot were involved in the first two, simultaneous attacks.

About 40 men attacked a French position on a road between Duekoue and the town of Man, further to the north.

Some 30 others launched another offensive from the road connecting Duekoue and Blodi.

Four French soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The second clash happened later in the day as the French swept the area where the rebels had attacked earlier.

Five more soldiers were wounded, one of them receiving a serious leg injury.

French army spokesman Ange-Antoine Leccia said the situation had stabilised by Monday evening.

Both MPIGO and another western group, the Movement for Justice and Peace, have declared responsibility for the attacks.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The French are in the area to hold back any rebel advance"

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05 Jan 03 | Africa
03 Jan 03 | Africa
02 Jan 03 | Africa
01 Jan 03 | Africa
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