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French Unleash Force Against Chaos in Ivory Coast

Key Points Seized As Armed Mobs Hunt Foreigners

By Parfait Kouassi
Associated Press
Monday, November 8, 2004; Page A22

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Nov. 7 -- The French military used overwhelming force Sunday to put down an explosion of anti-French violence in its former West African colony, deploying troops, armored vehicles and helicopter gunships against machete-waving mobs that went from house to house hunting for foreigners.

In the second day of military operations, French forces seized strategic control of the largest city, Abidjan, commandeering airports and posting gunboats under bridges. French military helicopters swept in to rescue a dozen trapped expatriates from the rooftop of a hotel.

Ivorian troops pull back from Yamoussoukro. French troops in the city moved south to help restore calm in Abidjan. (Luc Gnago -- Reuters)

The chaos erupted Saturday when Ivory Coast warplanes launched a surprise airstrike that killed nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker. The government called the bombing a mistake.

France hit back within hours, wiping out Ivory Coast's newly strengthened air force -- two Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters and at least three helicopter gunships -- on the ground.

The slain troops were among 4,000 French peacekeepers and 6,000 U.N. troops who have served as a buffer between Ivory Coast's rebel north and loyalist south since civil war broke out in September 2002.

The airstrike on the peacekeepers came after government forces last week broke a cease-fire in place for more than year and bombed rebel positions.

The peacekeepers are trying to hold together a nation whose stability is vital in a region where several nations are only just recovering from devastating civil wars in the 1990s. Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa producer and until the late 1990s stood as West Africa's most prosperous and peaceful nation.

On Sunday, loyalist mobs rampaged in a second day of looting and burning, outraged by the crushing French military response.

Gunshots echoed and smoke billowed over Abidjan and the capital, Yamoussoukro, as huge crowds destroyed foreign and locally owned businesses alike. Acrid black smoke rose from barricades of burning tires.

A reporter watched marauders clutching machetes and iron bars enter one neighborhood, demanding if any French lived there.

"If there are any whites in this neighborhood, we're going to get . . . them," one man shouted.

"It's better to kill the whites than steal their stuff," another yelled.

About 14,000 French citizens live in Ivory Coast. In Abidjan, they crouched in their homes.

"We are all terrified and try to reassure each other," one French resident said by telephone. "We have been told by the embassy to stay at home. . . . It is a difficult situation to live through."

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