UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Army bombs French military, nine killed
YAMOUSSOUKRO, 6 Nov 2004 (IRIN) - Ivorian government warplanes bombed a French military base on Saturday, killing nine peacekeepers and wounding 31 as Cote d'Ivoire's army continued its offensive on the rebel-held north for the third day.
The French military said a US national had also been killed in the attack on the town of Bouake, the stronghold of the New Forces group.
"We retaliated and destroyed two Sukhoi 25s [warplanes] on the ground at Yamoussoukro airport," Col Henri Aussavy, spokesman for the French peacekeeping force in Cote d'Ivoire, told IRIN.
The order to retaliate came directly from French President Jacques Chirac in Paris.
"(He) ordered the immediate destruction of the Ivorian military resources used in violation of the ceasefire," his office said in a statement.
Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said later that five Ivorian government helicopters had also been destroyed.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York on Saturday to discuss the Ivorian crisis.
Some 4,000 French peacekeepers along with 6,000 UN troops patrol a buffer zone that cuts through Cote d'Ivoire, dividing the world's top cocoa producer into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.
A ceasefire between Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels had been in place for eighteen months, until government war planes launched an aerial assault on Thursday.
On Saturday, shooting broke out in the main southern city Abidjan as French forces clashed with Ivorian troops around the international airport.
Humanitarian sources in Abidjan said pro-Gbagbo militants, known as the Young Patriots, had set fire to three French grammar schools in the city and looted French property.
The militants also descended on the French military base and the offices of the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI) to demonstrate and voice their anger over the retaliatory strikes carried out by the French.
The French government said on Saturday it had dispatched three warplanes on standby to Libreville, Gabon, where France also has a military base.
"The situation is deteriorating in Abidjan," Aussavy of the French forces said.
An anti-French demonstration was also staged at Man, a town held by the rebels in the west of the country near the border with Liberia. French military sources said the protesters threw Molotov cocktails and stones at the peacekeepers, whom they accused of not taking action against the government army.
Rebel leader Guillaume Soro made a similar complaint. "You are going to see a massacre in Abidjan," he told IRIN on Saturday. "We are going to have a catastrophic situation because of France's hesitation."
The Ivorian government's offensive began on Thursday when its warplanes unleashed bombs on the central town of Bouake, and Korhogo, another rebel stronghold further north. On Friday the air attacks continued against several towns east and west of Bouake.
Soro said on Saturday that there had been fighting on the ground between his rebel troops and the government forces in Bouake. He also confirmed the two sides had clashed in the town of Zouen-Houenien, near the Liberian border, and at the nearby Ity gold mine.
Medecins sans Frontieres, which runs a hospital in Bouake, said its emergency services had admitted 11 seriously wounded people on Saturday, bringing the total for the past three days to 50, and that more were expected.
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