Wednesday, November 10, 2004

 

Ivory Coast exodus

Foreigners are fleeing Ivory Coast in droves according to this story found at Yahoo! News - Exodus from Ivory Coast as foreigners, citizens flee violence, which only raises my personal fear that nothing good can possibly come of this situation...

ABIDJAN (AFP) - An exodus from Ivory Coast began as France sent planes to evacuate nationals while thousands of Ivorians fled across the borders to escape violence that has claimed a reported 145 lives.

"It is time for the Ivorian government to take responsibility for restoring public order," French President Jacques Chirac told a cabinet meeting Wednesday. "We are doing what we can to help our compatriots leave Ivory Coast."

French military spokesman Colonel Henry Aussavy told AFP that a first of three flights would leave around midday, carrying 270 of the 14,000 French nationals in France's former star colony in west Africa, which is the world's top cocoa producer.

The foreign ministry in Paris raised the number of planes to four.

"Four aircraft should take off from Abidjan during the day, representing a passenger capacity of about 1,000 available places," French foreign ministrey deputy spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said.

Some 1,300 Europeans are sheltering at a French military base near the airport, fleeing a torrent of mob violence in the economic hub Abidjan that has destroyed hundreds of homes and vehicles and left at least 600 people injured, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Belgium, Canada, Italy and Spain will also evacuate nationals, while Russia and the United States have yet to announce plans to do the same.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said "at least" 5,000 Ivorians have arrived in Liberia's northeastern Nimba County since Thursday, when government forces started bombarding key rebel positions in the north.

"Everyone is very frightened. We are preparing ourselves for even more people coming," UNHCR spokeswoman Francesca Fontanini told AFP from Monrovia.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has called the air strikes on Korhogo and Bouake an operation "to liberate and reunify the country" divided between rebel north and government south since a failed September 2002 coup sparked a civil war.

The air strikes have been widely condemned as a violation of an 18-month-old ceasefire reached under a January 2003 peace pact to address root causes of the uprising such as nationality, land ownership and eligibility for president.

Rebel leader Guillaume Soro told AFP that at least 85 civilians were killed in three days of raids that were followed by cuts in power, water and telephone services across the north, but those figures have not been confirmed.

A final raid Saturday by Gbagbo's forces hit a French military camp in Bouake, killing nine French soldiers and a US civilian in what French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has called a "deliberate" attack.

France riposted by wiping out most of the small Ivorian air force, seizing the airport and sending tanks onto the bridges spanning Abidjan's lagoon.

The aggressive response sent anti-French sentiment soaring. Gbagbo partisans commandeered national radio and television with "hate" messages urging protesters into the streets to loot, injure and, according to humanitarian sources in Abidjan, rape.

Violence has produced numerous standoffs between the so-called "patriots" and French soldiers. On Tuesday night the parking lot of the luxury Hotel Ivoire, a kilometer (half a mile) from Gbagbo's residence, became a bloodbath after a confrontation killed at least seven, according to hospital sources.

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie denied Wednesday that troops fired on civilians, discounting accusations by senior Gbagbo adviser Alain Toussaint that 50 civilians have died in "massacres" by French troops.

"Abidjan is a place where there are a lot of rumors, used to incite the crowd against the international community," she said.

The violence is likely to dim an upbeat assessment Tuesday by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who emerged "pleased" from a two-hour meeting with Gbagbo about his Ivorian counterpart's commitment to peace.

Mbeki on Wednesday invited Ivorian opposition leaders to South Africa as part of an African Union bid to restore calm. The AU mediation effort will in coming weeks include talks with key regional leaders such as Omar Bongo of Gabon and Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
Cocoa exports have been suspended due to the unrest, whipping prices on global markets to record highs.

The UN Security Council was expected to vote Wednesday on a French resolution imposing sanctions on Ivory Coast, including an arms embargo.


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