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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

COTE D'IVOIRE: Stampede in rebel town leaves 23 dead

ABIDJAN, 29 September 2003 (IRIN) - Some 300 French troops have calmed down the situation in the central Ivorian city of Bouake, where 23 people died in a shootout that followed a bank robbery on Thursday night, officials said.

Lt. Col. Peillon Georges, the French army spokesman in Abidjan, told IRIN on Monday that another 50 West African peacekeepers had been deployed into the city.

A 20.00 GMT to 6.00 GMT curfew imposed on Friday by the rebels, who control the city and now call themselves "the new forces", had been lifted, he said.

It was the first time the French, who arrived on a peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire following a 19 September 2002 coup attempt that left the country divided with rebel soldiers controlling the north and government controlling the south, had deployed in rebel-controlled areas.

France sent 3,800 peacekeepers to its former colony and in January organised peace talks between the government and the rebels. The talks led to a peace accord that created a government of national unity that included rebel leaders.

Thursday's shootout occurred after armed men broke into the local branch of the West African Central Bank (BCEAO). Rebel guards who attempted to stop the robbery shot at some desperate civilians who joined in attempting to grab some money for themselves.

Kone Ferdinand, deputy director of BCEAO in Abidjan told IRIN on Monday that the money stolen during the robbery in Bouake however consisted of old notes that were about to be destroyed. He could not give the total amount.

Tension has risen in Bouake, 380 km north of Abidjan, after rebel leaders who had earlier joined the government of national unity headed by President Laurent Gbagbo retreated there on 18 September.

The United States on Friday called on the rebels to review their decision and resume participation in the government of national unity.

"The US is concerned over reports that the New Forces have suspended their participation in the government....We urge the New Forces ministers to resume their participation. All sides must work to instill confidence in the others in order to move forward," a US statement said.

The African Union President Alpha Konare regretted the decision by the rebels and urged them to rejoin the government.

In a sign of a rift within its ranks, one of the rebel groups, the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Great West (MPIGO) disowned one of its leaders on Friday after he defied orders to withdraw from the government.

MPIGO said in a statement that Roger Banchi had been "stripped of his ministerial functions" for attending a cabinet meeting on Thursday in defiance of an order that all nine rebel ministers should suspend their participation in the broad-based government of national reconciliation.

But Banchi was unrepentant and said he would stay on as Minister for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises unless he was sacked by President Laurent Gbagbo. Overall rebel spokesman, Guilaume Soro, warned that hostilities may resume unless Gbagbo makes concessions.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict




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