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26.09.2002 Ivory Coast

U.S. Children Trapped in Ivory Coast Flown to Ghana

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Sept. 26 — Some of the American children and teachers evacuated from a school in a rebel-held city here were flown out of the country today in a United States military transport plane.

The evacuees were headed for Ghana, where American officials will oversee reunions with their families and fly those who want to back to the United States.

Armed United States soldiers stood by the C-130 plane as about 20 Americans went aboard in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast's capital, where they were taken by French troops who rescued them on Wednesday.

A total of 191 Westerners — 148 Americans, including 98 children, and 43 others, including French and Canadians — were escorted from the International Christian Academy in Bouaké, where they had been trapped for six days.

Some of those evacuated apparently chose to head for Abidjan, the country's commercial capital.

In Bouaké, rebels said they had agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire so that French troops could evacuate hundreds of other foreigners from the city, Reuters reported.

"We have agreed this with the French, not with the enemies," a rebel spokesman told the news agency.

American Special Forces, who were sent from Germany on Tuesday, arrived at the airport in Yamoussoukro on Wednesday.

Sons and daughters of missionaries in West Africa, the children, ranging in age from kindergartners to high school students, waved American flags from car windows as they left the school. All those inside were safe, said James Forlines, director of Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions in Nashville.

"It was just a little before 11 a.m. that the French troops arrived in force and they were evacuated a few hours later," said Mr. Forlines, whose organization has missionaries at the school. "They were very much relieved."

The deployment of the United States troops, made at the request of the American ambassador in Ivory Coast, followed a night and day of heaving gunfire and shelling in Bouaké, which has been held by rebel forces since last Thursday.

France had already sent hundreds of its own troops to help evacuate foreigners living in Bouaké, including 600 of its own citizens. The rebels also control another major city, Korhogo, in the north.

Last Thursday, soldiers staged uprisings in Abidjan and in Bouaké and Korhogo. Loyalist forces quickly put down the uprising in Abidjan, but have struggled to oust the rebels in the other cities.

Ivory Coast, which many foreign organizations use as a base for their operations in West Africa, has suffered from chronic instability since its first military coup in late 1999. In a country that was once a model for ethnic and religious harmony, the recent events have dangerously deepened the country's many internal divisions.

Through its news media, the government, led by Christian southerners, has accused Muslim northerners of being behind the failed coup attempt. It accused the northerners of being allied with the president of neighboring Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré. Mr. Compaoré's government rejected the accusations.

On Wednesday the Ivoirian government said it was severing telephone links to Burkina Faso, and youths attacked the Burkina Faso Embassy in Abidjan, damaging its gates.

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