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Last Updated: Friday, 2 January, 2004, 16:33 GMT
French soldiers face robbery claim
French tanks at the bank in Bouake
French troops were deployed to protect the bank
Four French soldiers are accused of robbing a bank in Ivory Coast they were supposed to be guarding, sources say.

The men have been placed under judicial investigation, one step short of formal charges, say judicial and military officials in Paris.

They are accused of taking 58,000 euros from the bank in the northern rebel-held town of Bouake.

The officials in Paris said the men were detained after allegedly trying to buy diamonds and gold.

The soldiers are accused of "aggravated theft" in November and December, sources say.

The soldiers are all said to come from the 126th Infantry Regiment, which was guarding the branch of the Central Bank of West African States. They are not being held in custody.

The branch had already been the scene of an attempted robbery and violent clashes between pro-government and rebel forces.

At least 23 people had died before the French moved in last September.

Four-thousand French troops are in Ivory Coast trying to ensure a fragile ceasefire holds.




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