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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 17:48 GMT
France attacks Ivorian airbase
Su-25 (in service with the Macedonian air force)
Ivory Coast lost two Su-25 ground attack planes
French forces in Ivory Coast have destroyed two government warplanes after an air strike which left eight French soldiers dead and 23 injured.

The French struck the airbase in the capital, Yamoussoukro, soon after an air raid on the rebel-held town of Bouake hit the French peacekeepers.

France said its forces had struck in direct response to the bombing.

French and Ivorian forces also clashed briefly at the airport in main city Abidjan, a French spokesman said.

Now the priority is the immediate end of combat
Jean-Francois Bureau
French defence ministry

Col Henry Aussavy said the Ivorians had shot first and the French had fired back, but negotiations were later begun.

An Ivorian military source was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying two Ivorian soldiers had been wounded in the clash.

The airport is the country's main international terminal and both Ivorian and French combat planes are based there, French news agency AFP notes.

Reports say French troops guarding a French base in the city also fired tear gas at a crowd protesting at the Yamoussoukro attack.


The African Union has urged the warring sides in Ivory Coast to return to the ceasefire signed last year.

Government air strikes on rebel-held territory in the north this week, and clashes on the ground between the two sides, mark the first major unrest since a peace deal brokered by France in January 2003.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs says that the conflict has entered a new and highly unstable phase with foreign forces, whether by accident or design, drawn directly into the line of battle.

Until now, the bombing by Ivorian forces of rebel positions brought international condemnation but little in the way of a direct military response from UN peacekeepers, who are mandated to respond only if directly attacked.

However, the death of French soldiers provided the necessary provocation and the French military response was swift and decisive, our analyst notes.


The French defence ministry announced in Paris that two Ivorian Sukhoi-25 bombers had bombed a position of its Unicorn Force in Bouake at 1400 French time (1300 GMT) on Saturday.

29 Sept: Ivorian parliament fails to agree citizenship laws, which were a key requirement of the January 2003 peace deal
13 Oct: Ivorian rebels say they will not disarm, as planned, until immigration laws are changed
28 Oct: Vendors selling newspapers accused of supporting the opposition are attacked by pro-government militants in Abidjan and southern towns
The New Forces order eight rebel ministers to return to the rebel-held north, saying it had discovered the government smuggling arms across its territory
4 Nov: Government launches air strikes on rebel-held territory in north
5 Nov: More government air strikes and clashes on the ground in north, as unrest erupts in Abidjan
Nov 6: French forces destroy two government warplanes after an air strike leaves French soldiers dead

"In response to this aggression, the Unicorn Force destroyed the two Sukhoi-25s at around 1415 [1315] at Yamoussoukro," it added.

Defence ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said the army had "responded in a situation of legitimate defense" and was now seeking "the immediate end of combat".

Survivors of the attack were evacuated to Abidjan, said Col Gerard Dubois, another French military spokesman in Paris, who did not indicate how badly injured they were.

An Ivorian military spokesman, Col Philipe Mangou, confirmed for AFP that the two Soviet-made ground attack planes were destroyed by the French at Yamoussoukro Airport.

The French military did not give details of how they were destroyed.

The former colonial power has ordered three Mirage F1CR jets based in Chad to be redeployed to nearby Gabon, as a precaution.

Caught in the middle

French peacekeepers, more usually accused by government supporters of siding with the rebels, faced violent protests earlier on Saturday in the rebel-held town of Mans.

French soldier in Ivory Coast (archive)
France is the former colonial power in the region
An angry group protested outside the French military barracks, accusing the French of colluding with the government and failing to stop attacks on rebel territory.

A French military spokesman said two vehicles had been burnt and a storeroom looted.

On Friday, UN troops stopped three columns of Ivorian army vehicles advancing into what is known as the "confidence zone" - a buffer area between the two sides. In one incident, soldiers fired warning shots.

Tensions reached boiling point in Ivory Coast after a disarmament deadline of 15 October was missed and rebels withdrew from the unity government.

The African Union voiced deep concern on Saturday, calling for both the government and rebels to refrain from any further violations of the truce they signed last year after a bitter civil war which split the country.

Neither side attended emergency talks hosted in Nigeria by President Olusegun Obasanjo, who chairs the AU.

The country has been split in two since last year's peace deal, with 10,000 French and UN troops deployed to monitor the ceasefire.


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