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Last Updated: Monday, 25 August, 2003, 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
France foils Ivory Coast 'coup plot'
Ivorian rebel
Rebels still control much of the north of the country
France says it has foiled a coup plot in Ivory Coast by arresting 10 people, including a former coup leader and several suspected mercenaries.

"French authorities, having learned of destabilisation plans for the Ivory Coast, a friend and ally, took all measures necessary to end this operation," France's Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous told reporters.

French officials said those arrested in Paris on Saturday included Ibrahim Coulibaly, a former Ivory Coast Army sergeant who led a 1999 coup.

Ivory Coast - a former French colony - has been rocked by a brutal civil that erupted last year.

Tensions remain high in the world's leading cocoa-growing nation despite a peace accord signed earlier this year.

'Destabilisation plot'

The French officials said four of the 10 people were arrested after being stopped by anti-terrorist police at Charles de Gaulle airport as they were about to board a commercial flight for the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan.

They said that the other six, including Mr Coulibaly, were detained during a raid on one of the capital's hotels.

The officials said that they were suspected of directing and financing what they described as the "destabilisation plot" from abroad.

All 10 are being held in custody and are expected to appear before an investigating judge on Wednesday.

"The case is currently in the hands of the justice ministry," Mr Ladsous said.

Without giving further details, the spokesman said the arrests marked the first time the authorities had applied a new anti-mercenary law passed in April.

High tensions

Mr Coulibaly played a key role in the 1999 coup that brought General Robert Guei to power, but he fled to Burkina Faso after Mr Guei's regime collapsed ahead of elections in 2000.

Mr Coulibaly was also suspected of being one of the driving forces behind a rebellion in September last year that triggered the nine-months civil war in which thousands died and up to one million people were displaced.

After Ivory Coast's parliament passed a new amnesty law earlier this month, Mr Coulibaly said that he intended to return to the country.

"An amnesty has been decreed which says that all the sons of Ivory Coast can return home. I will take advantage of this opportunity," he told the AFP news agency in Paris.

Despite a Paris-brokered deal that restored peace and led to the formation of a national unity government, Ivory Coast still remains divided between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south.


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