Ivory Coast Conflict
On the night of 18-19 September 2002, as many as 800 disgruntled soldiers took up arms against the Government of Côte d'Ivoire in mutiny. In a country that had been considered one of the most stable nations in Africa, it was the sixth coup or attempted coup in the space of less than 3 years. The uprising began before dawn after the soldiers learned that that hundreds of soldiers were to be demobilized against their will. Many of the mutineers had been instated during the rule of General Robert Guei, the instigator of the 1999 military coup, who eventually lost power as a result of popular elections, and had remained his supporters.
The city of Abidjan was the site of one of 3 simultaneous rebel attacks. Control of Abidjan was secured by loyalist forces after a day of gun and mortar battles that reportedly killed at least 270 people. During the fighting, government forces assaulted General Guei at his home in Abidjan, killing him along with his wife, son, and grandchildren. They had believed that Guei was responsible for the soldier uprising. Although France, who had vested interests in its former colony, had approximately 600 troops stationed in Abidjan under the terms of a bilateral agreement, the French government did not call on them to intervene.
After the coup d-etat failed, the rebels retreated to the Muslim dominated north. There they were able to garner substantial local support for their anti-government cause. During its time of prosperity, the Ivory Coast had attracted many immigrants from its poorer neighboring countries. At one point, nearly one third of the people that resided in the Ivory Coast were foreigners, many of whom were Muslims who became concentrated in communities in the north. As the economy began to take a downturn, these immigrants became scapegoats for the nation's problems and were targeted as outsides despite the fact that many had become citizens. Separated from the richer farming areas of the south and discriminated against in the political processes that denied their leader, the Muslims felt increasingly marginalized by the central government.
Rebels announced their willingness to enter negotiations with the government on the following Sunday, 22 September 2002, provided that a third party intervened. To that effect, a list of their demands was sent to the French Embassy in the capital. These demands included the reintegration of deserters into the army, the release of military and paramilitary police officers from prison, along with better pay. France had been reinforcing its troop presence in the country to aid in the possible evacuation of some 20,000 French nationals, as well as other foreigners. The rebel announcement came just as a military convoy of armored vehicles and tanks was approaching the central Ivory Coast city of Bouake and the northern town of Korhogthat, which remained under the control of anti-government forces.
Against the backdrop of political strife violence continued. The home of former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, the leader of Ivory Coast's main opposition party, was set on fire. Ouattara had already taken refuge in the French Ambassador's residence. Henri Konan Bedie, another of the country's former Presidents, also sought refuge at the Canadian ambassador's residence.
On 23 September 2002, gunfire was exchanged in Bouake, the country's second largest city, at the airport where French troops were being camped. Rebels had already taken control of the town of Tebissou, located about 70 kilometers south of Bouake, near the political capital of Yamoussoukro.
On 24 September 2002, heavy fighting broke out in Bouake. More than 100 American children and staff at the International Christian Academy, a missionary boarding school, counted among those caught in the fighting. US Special Forces were dispatched to the region, following the request of the US Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Arlene Render. Neighboring Ghana served as a staging base for the 200 US troops from the US military's European Command. The situation at the Bouake missionary boarding school was resolved after French troops rescued those who had taken refuge there. France finished evacuating more than 1,000 of its citizens, along with hundreds of Americans and other foreigners, from rebel-held Bouake on 27 September 2002.
Allegations began to arise from the Ivorian government that claimed the coup attempt had been supported by an unidentified neighboring country. The accusations further fueled the nation's xenophobia and led to attacks by Ivorian security forces and citizens against the country's large community of immigrant workers, especially those from Burkina Faso. Nigeria meanwhile began providing assistance to the Ivorian government in the form of 3 fighter jets, which were dispatched to Abidjan. Military sources in the country were reported as saying that these would be used to fly over and possibly attack rebel targets.
The Ivorian Ambassador to the United Nations, Djessan Philippe Djangone-Bi, announced that Ivory Coast was upgrading its arsenal to combat heavily armed rebels, though the source of the weapons remained undisclosed. He claimed the rebels to be armed young men originally from Burkina Faso, Sierra Leon, and Liberia, further emphasizing the rebellion as a foreign threat. According to Djangone-Bi, cocoa production would be unaffected by the rebellion. The country's cocoa belt and main ports of Abidjan and San Padre had been untouched by the fighting.
Renegade soldiers continued to secure further territory, capturing more towns in the center and north of the country under their control. On 27 September 2002, the rebels released the country's sports minister, whom they had been holding in Bouake, since the start of hostilities.
By 28 September 2002, calls were growing among West African leaders for France to take a more active role in ending the rebellion. Ivory Coast's Prime Minister, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, told French journalists that his government wanted France to help the government with logistical support in its battle with renegade soldiers. This was echoed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, the head of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), who was quoted as saying that, provided ECOWAS decided to send a multi-national force of West African peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, France should be willing to pledge logistical aid. ECOWAS met on 29 September 2002 in Accra, Ghana, to discuss the question of dispatching a peacekeeping force. The meeting included Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore.
On 31 September 2002, a team of diplomats from several West African nations (ministers from Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Togo, and Guinea-Bissau) arrived in Abidjan to meet with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, hoping to mediate a cease-fire between the Ivory Coast government and the renegade soldiers. It was also hoped that through this meeting, more information could also be learned about the demands and support base of the rebels. The rebels had expressed a willingness to begin preliminary talks with the mediators.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting broke out in the town of Tiebissou, about 40-kilometers north of Yamoussoukro. The town had changed hands at least twice during the previous week, though the government had been claiming control of the town. Bouake remained the scene of heavy fighting and large numbers of people left the city and other rebel-held areas on foot amid fears of government assaults. Though the government had repeatedly vowed to launch major offensives on rebel-held areas, these threats were never carried out. Those leaving Bouake described the rebels as well-armed and organized, and noted that they had not attacked civilians.
French troops assembled north of Yamoussoukro in an effort to help loyalist forces prevent a rebel incursion to the south. However their support was purely logistical and did not include fighting troops. US Special Forces in neighboring Ghana were utilized to rescue hundreds of Americans and other foreigners from the northern rebel-held towns of Korhogo and Ferkessedougou.
A rebel spokesman stated that it was only the knowledge of the contingent of French troops posted north of Yamoussoukro that had prevented them from advancing south toward Abidjan. France, while not directly involved in the mediation efforts, did assist with the transport and protection of some participants. Mediators were reported as saying that the government of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo had agreed to negotiate once a ceasefire accord was in effect.
By 2 October 2002, more reports emerged that government security forces and supporters had been attacking and setting fire to Abidjan's many shantytowns, home to members of the country's large population of immigrant workers from other West African countries. Officially, the government claimed justification through its belief that these areas might serve as hideouts for anti-government forces. Officials for the UN Refugee Agency expressed concern that the attacks on foreigners' and their homes could result in a major humanitarian crisis in Abidjan as thousands were displaced.
On 5 October 2002, West African ministers left Yamoussoukro saying Ivory Coast officials had failed at the last minute to deliver their formal approval of the cease-fire accord. There was no immediate explanation from Ivory Coast government officials. The mediation team had arranged for rebels and government representatives to travel under the protection of French troops to a school north of Yamoussoukro for a signing ceremony. There, they waited an entire day for the government to deliver a document, in which President Laurent Gbagbo would formally authorize a military officer present to sign the accord. At the end of the day, and with no document in hand, the ministers called off the signing ceremony and left the city.
Ministers declined to speculate on why the government had not delivered its approval, however some expressed frustration and surprise. Mediators had originally scheduled the signing ceremony after rebel leaders had assured them they would support a cease-fire. The agreement would have committed both sides to lay down their weapons in order to begin peace negotiations. France also expressed dismay at the failure of action and urged the Ivorian leader to pursue dialogue with the insurgents.
On 8 October 2002, differing reports emerged over whom was holding control of Bouake. The Ivory Coast leader claimed on state television that loyalist forces were still battling for control of Bouake. State media had reported that loyalist forces had recaptured the city that week, contradicting reports from residents and French military officials who had said the center of the city remained under rebel control. President Gbagbo also urged Ivorians to stop attacking members of Ivory Coast's large community of immigrant workers from neighboring countries, and also expressed his willingness to negotiate with rebels, if they disarmed.
The rebels continued to advance, capturing the town of Vavoua on the edge of Ivory Coast's rich cocoa-producing areas. The fighting pushed the world price of cocoa to a 16-year high, as the Ivory Coast accounted for about 40 percent of the world's total cocoa production at that time.
On 10 October 2002, after weeks of refusing to speak on the record, the political spokesman for the rebels, calling themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, admitted that planning for the rebellion began 2 years prior, when Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was originally swept into power. The spokesman refused to disclose how many men made up the rebel group, though he admitted that they all shared a strong dislike for President Gbagbo who they charged had heavily manipulated the elections 2 years before. He claimed that the rebels were patriots determined to capture Abidjan, overthrow the government, and organize new elections. He also insisted that the group had no political connections, not to General Guei, the leader ousted in the botched 2000 election, nor former Prime Minister Ouattara, the political leader for the nation's Muslim population, which comprised the popular support for the rebellion. The rebels reiterated their demand for all men who were once in the Ivorian army under General Guei to be reinstated immediately.
On 12 October 2002, Senegal's Foreign Minister Cheik Tidiane Gadio met with rebel commanders to put forth new proposals to advance the negotiations. While the rebels promised to consider the offers, the proposals did not seem to alter the situation drastically since they contained some of the same clauses Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo had rejected nearly a week before.
Amidst the continued fighting and tentative negations, international aid agencies began warning of a looming humanitarian crisis. They estimated that up to 10,000 people had, fearing renewed fighting, fled their homes in Ivory Coast's key cocoa-producing region with thousands more pouring out of Bouake, the rebel held city whose local economy had collapsed. People were forced to leave in search of food and for fear of continued counter-attacks by the army to retake the city. The United Nations World Food Program expressed fears that if the conflict did not have a swift resolution, the situation could become similar to that of Africa's Great Lakes region, where the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and years of warfare in Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi displaced millions numbers of people.
On 12 October 2002, rebels also attacked the city of Daloa, about 400-kilometers northwest of Abidjan. As the rebels took control government forces fled the city after the overnight engagement. There were reports that some paramilitary police and other security forces loyal to the government ripped off their uniforms as they fled so that they could not be identified. The once heavily-guarded government check-points in and around Daloa were deserted. The fall of the city of 160,000 represented both a strategic and symbolic victory for the rebels. Daloa lay in the heartland of President Gbagbo's Bete tribe, and was considered a government stronghold. Many members of Mr. Gbagbo's southern-based Bete tribe lived on one side of the town. The other side was home to the predominantly northern Dioulas, the ethnic group of most of the rebels. By extending their influence through Daloa, the rebels gained control of more than half the country, including most of the cocoa fields.
With the conflict in the Ivory Coast approaching the status of full-scale civil war, it threatened to spread to other African countries. Angola became involved by sending troops along with 2 T-55 Soviet-era tanks to Abidjan in support government forces. Another development that threatened to escalate the crisis occurred when President Gbagbo fired his defense minister, leaving the post vacant. Some feared the president was trying to take direct control of the army in a bid to wipe out the rebels once and for all. A more optimistic view saw the move to be a way to find a solution to the conflict by the removal of the hardliner defense minister, as demanded by the rebels.
On 14 October 2002, the rebels announced the suspension of the talks, saying they would accept nothing less than the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo. Peace talks had faltered as neither side trusted the other to disarm or follow through on its promises. The rebels also demanded that the Angolan troops leave before any peace talks could resume. The Angolan government denied that it had sent any troops to Ivory Coast. Without the prospect of ending the righting, the unrest also triggered a mass exodus of West African immigrants. The border into neighboring Ghana became choked with busloads of people attempting to flee.
In an interview with the French newspaper, Le Monde, published on 14 October 2002, President Gbagbo complained that France had not taken him seriously when he had warned that neighboring Burkina Faso was accepting hundreds of disaffected Ivorian soldiers. Mr. Gbagbo charged that these soldiers were the rebels who called themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, and that they presented a pressing concern.
On 15 October 2002, government forces were able to recapture Daloa and proceeded to conduct house-to-house searches, hunting for rebel soldiers. This was followed by an agreement, conducted through Senegal's Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, in which both sides would cease hostilities. The rebels had also agreed to air their future grievances through direct talks between rebels and government representatives.
US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, stressed US support for the truce deal. However, he added that because the situation in the country remained "volatile" and "quite fluid," the State Department ordered non-essential US personnel and the families of all embassy employees in Ivory Coast to leave. The evacuation order was accompanied by an official advisory to US citizens to avoid travel to Ivory Coast, and for private Americans already in the country to leave while space was still available on outgoing flights. The US travel warning said while Abidjan and other areas outside the zone of conflict might appear calm, the situation remained "unpredictable." An official was reported as saying that the evacuation would reduce the US presence from about 200 embassy employees and family members down to about 40 staff members. Some non-essential personnel had already left the country under a voluntary departure plan authorized earlier. About 2,800 US private citizens were said to be residing in or visiting Ivory Coast.
Neighboring countries were also taking measures to repatriate their nationals. The government of Mali launched a program to repatriate thousands of its nationals who had asked to leave. Burkina Faso took a similar measure later, sending convoys of buses to pick up hundreds of Burkinabe immigrant workers. Nigeria also launched an evacuation program. Many of those leaving have reportedly said they had been the victims of attacks by government security forces.
Tensions rose again on 22 October 2002, when hundreds of pro-Gbagbo protesters broke through police lines and tried to bring down the gates of a French military base near the Abidjan airport. French troops forced them back by firing tear gas and stun grenades at the crowd. Demonstrators then took to the streets, throwing rocks, and smashing the windows of cars belonging to Westerners or anyone else who appeared to be French. French authorities ordered all French schools closed, and French residents, who number in the 10,000s in Ivory Coast, were put on alert. The demonstrators protested what they believed was France's decision to provide safe haven to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, the main political adversary to President Laurent Gbagbo. Demonstrators chanting anti-French slogans demanded that the French hand over Mr. Ouattara. French troops had recently deployed around the rebel zones to monitor a cease-fire that was signed by the rebels and the government. State-sponsored media had been critical for weeks of the French and their involvement country. However, the criticism eased after President Gbagbo went on state television and thanked the French for their assistance.
At a closed-door meeting in Abidjan on 23 October 2002, members of a 6-nation contact group of West African mediators praised both sides for adhering to the cease-fire that stopped hostilities. It was agreed that the French troops, who had been monitoring the accord, would be replaced by troops from nations of ECOWAS. The Togolese leader also called on western nations to help. The meeting agreed upon Togo as the site for future negotiations and picked Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema to be the coordinator of the mediation efforts. The mediators also agreed to deploy a multi-national West African force of about 2,000 cease-fire monitors in Ivory Coast. A number of West African nations volunteered to send troops to Ivory Coast including Benin, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. Officials said the largest contingent would be from Senegal. While creating conditions conducive to future negotiations, many Ivorians were apprehensive about the excessive level of foreign involvement as opposed to settling the conflict internally.
Meanwhile, rebel leaders were in the process of choosing governors to administer services to people in territories under their control. The rebels defended their decision to start an administration claiming it would allow for a return to normal life for the thousands of people in the areas they control. Rebels also began radio and television broadcasts from their stronghold in the city of Bouake. The move angered government officials, who accused the insurgents of illegally taking over state-owned broadcasting facilities and airing anti-government messages.
By 28 October 2002, a delegation of rebel leaders was already in the Togolese capital, Lome, for the first face-to-face meeting with Ivory Coast government officials. The rebel delegation was composed of 6 members, including Guillaume Soro, the insurgent group's Executive Secretary. The 2 delegations met on 30 October 2002 at the home of the Togolese President and later at a hotel in the capital of Togo. Simultaneously, both rebels and foreign military sources began claiming that the Ivory Coast government had brought in a contingent of mercenary fighters from another African nation. A government spokesman refused to confirm or deny the reports.
At the end of the second day of negotiations, the delegations issued a joint statement outlining a basic agenda of how the discussions were to proceed. Both sides agreed in principle to abstain from carrying out summary executions, revenge killings, and hiring of mercenaries all in the interest of making conditions in Ivory Coast favorable to dialogue and reconciliation. The head of a West African team of mediators, Mohammed Ibn Chambas stated that much progress had been made in the two days of talks. In their initial discussions, the two sides agreed to address the rebels' reintegration into the army and other side issues before discussing the rebels' political demands.
The agreement committed the government to push through laws granting amnesty for renegade soldiers who were imprisoned or in exile. The government also agreed to reintegrate rebels into the army. For their part, rebels agreed to open a humanitarian corridor through areas of north and central Ivory Coast that were under their control.
However the negotiations reached a standstill on 4 November 2002, as rebel leaders said they would not go back to talks unless the Ivory Coast government assured them it would listen to what they said were their most important demands. These included the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and the holding of new elections. They later agreed to return to negotiations. Both sides repeatedly warned they were not willing to compromise on the key issues and vowed to resume fighting if the talks in Togo failed.
On 8 November 2002, the rebels hinted they might pull out of negotiations, after accusing government security forces of killing the brother of one of their leaders. Rebel leaders said the body was found riddled with bullets on the outskirts of Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan. The government said it would investigate the killing.
The following day, rebel leaders announced their decision to temporarily suspend the negotiations, accusing the government of President Laurent Gbagbo of creating an atmosphere of terror in Ivory Coast while the talks were under way. The Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast rebel group said they would not resume talks until the government agreed to stop committing alleged atrocities against political opponents and others. Even after talks resumed, they remained stalled on a number of issues including the demand that President Laurent Gbadbo resign from office and that new elections be held.
On 19 November 2002, President Gbagbo told business leaders he was willing to hold a referendum the following year in which people would decide whether to amend the constitution. The rebels rejected the offer as it had not been offered to them and they believed the president's comments had been intended to appease the business community in Ivory Coast. Since the offer had not been put on paper and presented at the negotiations, the rebels did not consider it.
As negotiations entered their fourth week, little progress had taken place in the talks. However, the insurgents seemed to have softened their position, not specifically mentioning in their proposal draft the ouster of the President, but merely the establishment of a new political order. As well, in their draft, the rebels called on the government to address the issue of nationality, which had long divided the country.
France, meanwhile, was being criticized on both sides for its role in the conflict. Government supporters criticized it for harboring opposition politician Alassane Ouattara in the French Embassy in Abidjan and failing to honor an old agreement that France would intervene militarily if the Ivory Coast was threatened by foreign forces. Conversely, the rebels were angry that French troops in the Ivory Coast had effectively stopped their march to southern parts of the country.
During the negotiations in Togo, another dimension was added to the conflict. New factions of rebels attacked and took the cities of Man and Danane. Man was in the heart of Ivory Coast's coffee-growing region, which was surrounded by tall grass and trees in a forested region, and was known as the Land of the 18 Mountains. Danane lay near the Liberian border, and had long been home to thousands of Liberian refugees who had gone there to escape that country's successive rebel conflicts. The rebels claimed to be fighting against the Gbagbo government to avenge the assassination of former military ruler General Robert Guei that occurred during the initial mutiny. Guei was a member of the Ivory Coast's western Yacouba ethnic group, which had close cultural ties to the Gio tribe in Liberia.
Reports of the attack on the cities described Liberians among those fighting. One of the new groups involved in the attacks expressed interest in joining up with the MPCI, which did not rule out the possibility of uniting under the common goal of deposing Gbagbo. However, the new factions' momentum was lost on 30 November 2002, as government forces moved in to retake the city of Man with the support of foreign mercenaries. These loyalist forces were able to secure the airport at Man. After the battle for Man, the government forces used helicopter gunships to attack tagets in the western town of Toulepleu near the Liberian border.
By then it was emerging that there were in fact 2 new groups, each distinct from the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast. A spokesman for one of the new rebel factions said his group was seeking to join forces with the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast. The MPCI's Louis Dacoury-Tabley said his group had had no contact with the new rebel group, but did not rule out the possible establishment of an alliance that would have a common aim: the ouster of President Laurent Gbagbo.
On 6 December 2002, it was reported that French soldiers in the Ivory Coast had discovered in an area of western Ivory Coast known as Monoko-Zoy a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of victims killed in ongoing fighting between loyalists and rebels in the west of the country. It was unknown whether the bodies were those of combatants or civilians. Villagers led the French troops to a large mound of dirt in the bush. The mound was about 30 meters long and 2 meters high, with body parts sticking out of the pile. The villagers also pointed to a nearby water well, where they indicated that more corpses might have been dumped. It was not clear how many bodies were in the mass grave, or who put them there. The grave was about 70 kilometers west of Daloa, near the town of Pelezi. The town has been the scene of heavy fighting between loyalist forces backed by foreign mercenaries against rebels. Local residents estimated the grave to contain more than 100 bodies.
On 7 December 2002, the MPCI announced they had petitioned the International Court of Justice to investigate the grave. The Ivory Coast's government denied any involvement in the incident. French military officers who were part of a buffer force in the area, said it was not part of their mandate as peacekeepers to probe the matter. In response to the mass grave, officials of the London-based human rights group Amnesty dispatched a team to the rebel-held areas of northern Ivory Coast, and said a visit to the gravesite was likely be on the agenda. Amnesty's mission was to focus on alleged atrocities committed in rebel-held territory. The group dispatched a team in October 2002, to check on the human rights situation in government-held areas.
Meanwhile, Ivorian Defense Minister Bertin Kadet, announced a general mobilization to crush the rebellion, and called on all Ivorian men between the ages of 20 and 26 to report to the army. The plan fell apart when army officials said they had not been provided with any recruitment supplies, such as uniforms, registration papers, or a comprehensive plan on how to process the new recruits. Angry and frustrated, hundreds of would-be recruits marched to the presidential palace to protest. The chaotic start of the recruitment drive came as Ivorians expressed growing frustration over the government's failure to organize a concerted effort to end the rebellion.
On 11 December 2002, France announced it would step up its involvement in efforts to stop the escalating rebel conflict in Ivory Coast. French foreign ministry officials stated France would immediately boost its troop presence in the West African country to 2,500 personnel. Fighting continued to escalate between the new rebel groups and the government, while the ongoing peace negotiations between the MPCI and the government appeared close to collapse. France already had more than 1,000 troops serving as a buffer force between the rebel held north of Ivory Coast and the government-controlled south. In addition to sending more troops, French foreign ministry officials said France was willing to host a new round of discussions to end Ivory Coast's conflict.
All sides of the conflict began preparing for prolonged battle. Rebels with the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) announced they were launching a recruitment effort as they prepared for a major offensive, a precaution if ongoing peace negotiations with the government failed. The insurgents began recruiting all men between the ages of 21 and 35 in the territories they controlled. There were also reports from Liberian refugees in western Ivory Coast that the government had been recruiting them to fight against the rebels.
About 500 French troops were expected to arrive the week of 16 December 2002, to reinforce the roughly 1,200 French soldiers already on the ground in Ivory Coast. The first contingent of roughly 150 paratroopers arrived in Abidjan late on 14 December 2002 and deployed to the north and west of the country on 15 December 2002. A rebel spokesman accused the French of siding with the government in the conflict. The French Foreign Minister denied that allegation, telling a French newspaper France's only goal was to support the truce and provide stability in its former colony. France also offered to host a new round of peace talks in Paris, and invited most of the West African leaders meeting in Togo to attend.
Meanwhile, senior officials from the African Development Bank were meeting separately in the capital of Ghana to discuss the impact of the Ivory Coast crisis on the Bank's operations. The Bank denied reports that it was thinking of moving its headquarters out of Abidjan.
On 19 December 2002, rebels from the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West, or MPIGO, overran the strategic town of Man, recapturing it less than 2 days after launching a 3-pronged attack on government forces there.
A meeting in Dakar, Senegal resulted in the decision to deploy a force of about 1,500 troops, and led by a Senegalese, to Ivory Coast by the end of the year. The ECOWAS force was originally supposed to replace the French troops already deployed in Ivory Coast, however conditions dictated that they work side by side. Simultaneously, France announced it would be sending another 300 paratroopers to enforce the tattered cease-fire in its former colony. A French transport ship was scheduled to dock in Ivory Coast by the end of the following week, carrying the 300 French soldiers, as well as helicopters and light armored vehicles.
On 20 December 2002, it was announced that rebels from the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West, or MPIGO, had taken control of the town of Bangolo in the west of the country, which was just 40 kilometers south of the strategic city of Man. Residents were reported as saying many of the fighters patrolling in Man were English-speaking and believed to be Liberian. French troops set up base in the town of Duekoue, another 40 kilometers south of Bangolo. French commanders in the area said they did not intend to let the rebel forces move past the Sassandra River, which lay further south from Duekoue, halfway to the key cocoa town of Daloua. The rebels vowed to press on until they had conquered the entire country. They remained blocked however, by the heavily armed, battle-hardened French Legionnaires. On 21 December 2002, the 2 forces met and clashes erupted just north of the town of Duekoue.
The 3 rebel factions in Ivory Coast were preparing to meet on 23 December 2002, to discuss the increased involvement of French troops in blocking their attempt to overthrow the Ivorian government. The meeting took place in Bouake between the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI), the Popular Movement of the Far West (MPIGO), and the Movement for Justice and Peace, which was also active in the west. The 3 Ivory Coast rebel factions announced they would consider any future French attacks on their fighters to be an act of war. France had declared that it would not take sides in the conflict and that its presence was to protect its nationals and attempt to maintain the stability of the fragile cease-fire.
On 25 December 2002, the president of Ivory Coast produced a new 10-point peace plan he hoped would end the country's 3 month old civil war. Before officially releasing it to the public, the Ivorian leader sent representatives to brief UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the presidents of France, Senegal and Togo, all key players in attempts to negotiate a political solution to the crisis. Mr. Gbagbo proposed a new government of national unity and a referendum on 3 issues important to the rebels' eligibility for the presidency, land ownership laws, and nationality. However, the rebels' key demand that President Gbagbo step down and call new elections was not part of his plan.
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