Ivory Coast crisis heads for civil war

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The Independent Online

French and American troops airlifted 130 Westerners from a rebel-held town in northern Ivory Coast yesterday, as the conflict drifted towards all-out civil war.

French and American troops airlifted 130 Westerners from a rebel-held town in northern Ivory Coast yesterday, as the conflict drifted towards all-out civil war.

French troops spearheaded the escape of some 130 European and American missionaries and aid workers from the town of Korhogo, the main rebel stronghold in the north.

US troops assisted in taking control of Korhogo's airport as helicopters and C-130 transport planes flew the Westerners to the capital, Yamoussoukro.

Thabo Mbeki, the South African President and chairman of the African Union, flew into neighbouring Ghana to join west African leaders at an emergency summit called to prevent the crisis turning into a regional conflict. The President of Senegal said up to 4,000 west African peace-keeping troops could be deployed, but a rebel commander warned that foreign intervention could mean years of civil war.

The President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, says he wants only logistical help in crushing the rebels. He has threatened an all-out attack to retake the swaths of northern territory that have fallen into insurgents' hands since a failed coup attempt on 19 September, which has divided the predominantly Muslim north from the Christian south. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes.

The most recent rebel gain was the north-western town of Odienne, which fell on Friday. The rebels are swinging south and west to secure their gains.

In Bouaké, from where as many as 2,000 Westerners have been airlifted to safety, thousands of the city's 500,000 residents were reportedly being turned away from rebel checkpoints as they tried to flee. The rebels, who Ivory Coast authorities accuse of being mercenaries of a foreign state, insist civilians must stay.

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