French troops on alert for Ivory Coast evacuation

Click to follow
The Independent Online

France said yesterday it was ready to rescue its 16,000 citizens from Ivory Coast if anti-French riots in the former West African colony spread.

France said yesterday it was ready to rescue its 16,000 citizens from Ivory Coast if anti-French riots in the former West African colony spread.

After a series of alarmed headlines in French newspapers, and interviews with long-term French residents who fear for their lives, Dominique de Villepin, the Foreign Minister, said Paris was ready to save the French community "at any time".

Michèle Alliott-Marie, the Defence Minister, said there were no immediate plans for evacuation but the 2,500 French troops in Ivory Coast would be "strengthened" as a precaution, helicopters were patrolling the capital, Abidjan, and "large ships" were waiting offshore if needed.

The streets of Abidjan were relatively calm yesterday, and there was no sign of the attacks on French buildings and private homes that followed a French-brokered peace agreement in the civil war.

Pro-government mobs of youths, calling themselves the "patriots", have taken to the streets of Abidjan since Sunday, protesting against a power-sharing agreement signed in France last week. They complain that the deal makes too many concessions to rebel forces who have conquered the north and west of the country since civil war broke out after a failed coup in September.

Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivory Coast President, accepted the deal and, before leaving Paris, promised to make a national address to convince his supporters it was in the best interests of the country. He has yet to make the address and has reassured his rioting supporters that the most controversial terms of the agreement – including placing the army and police under rebel command – were only proposals. Other government officials and the Ivorian army have rejected the deal.

France sent troops in November to halt the rebel advance. But it now finds its citizens and soldiers under attack from supporters of the regime that it has, until now, been propping up. Yesterday's edition of the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchainé quoted a French security official who complained that President Chirac had tried to impose a settlement "like in the days of papa De Gaulle".

Comments