CBN News November 11, 2004
Ivory Coast Turmoil Causes Hundreds to Flee
By George Thomas
CBN News Sr. Reporter
CBN.com (CBN News) - While the eyes of the world are on Iraq, a political and religious crisis is playing out in the African nation of Ivory Coast. Dozens of Western nations are scrambling to rescue their citizens in what is described as the largest evacuation in Africa in recent times. And at the heart of the conflict are the French, a group of Muslim rebel soldiers and a Christian president. What was once West Africa's richest and most peaceful nation is today in the grip of an ongoing political and military crisis.
In a country no larger than the state of New Mexico, the conflict in Ivory Coast pits a Christian-dominated government in the south against Muslim rebels in the north.
Global Security director John Pike said, "Ivory Coast has been in a crisis for a number of years. There's been a French peacekeeping force there trying to put a lid on things."
But this latest spiral into violence looks more like a battle between France and its one-time prize West African colony.
Last Saturday, France's president Jacque Chirac ordered French fighter jets to destroy the entire Ivorian Air Force, including the official plane of the Ivorian president. The attack came in retaliation for a government air strike on the rebel-held north, which killed nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said, "We deplore the deaths of the French soldiers and the American."
But Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo said the bombing was a mistake. In an exclusive interview by phone with CBN News from his presidential palace, Gbagbo accused Paris of trying to destabilize his nation.He said, "The French are trying to derail democracy in my country. What the French have done is unbelievable."
Gbagbo also finds it unbelievable that the French did not even ask the UN Security Council for permission to intervene.
Gbagbo remarked, "The French should have sought the advice of the United Nations before carrying out such an attack. I, as the president of this nation, did not even have the chance to investigate the air strike. This military intervention was incomprehensible."
A point not lost on Ivorians and Americans angered by France's vocal opposition to U.S. intervention in Iraq.
Gbagbo said, "I appeal to the United Nations and the global community to condemn this act by the French."
Meanwhile, President Gbagbo accuses the French of supporting the northern Muslim rebels in their quest to overthrow his government.
"The French know that we are facing a rebellion from the north," Gbagbo commented. "The very fact that France still went ahead and destroyed our military capacity to defend ourselves, tells me that the French are supporting our enemies."
Long-held anti-French feelings suddenly exploded into full-scale rampage this week. Thousands of machete-wielding Ivorians took to the streets seeking revenge against French targets.
One protestor cried, "I want a Frenchman. I want to eat a Frenchman. A Frenchman like Jacque Chirac."
The French responded by deploying troops, armored vehicles and helicopter gunships against the machete-waving mobs. Several have been killed and hundreds wounded.
The French have a long history of meddling in Africa. For decades, France has kept a tight leash on its former African colonies. With tens of thousands of its citizens living in these countries, protecting its interests has become paramount. Ivory Coast appears to be France's latest target.
In this time of crisis, Ivorians are turning their eyes toward heaven. Christians that CBN News talked to there are fasting and holding all-night prayer vigils in front of the presidential palace.
Gbagbo and his wife are born-again Christians, and have actively promoted national reconciliation efforts between Christians and Muslims throughout the country.
Gbagbo said, "I know that we are in a difficult situation right now, but I know that with the help of God and the prayers of people around the world, we shall overcome this crisis."
© Copyright 2004, The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc.