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28.09.2002 General News

Rebels Capture Third City

By AfricaNews
Rebels Capture Third City
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- Regional Summit Shifts To Ghana As French troops ended their 48 hour evacuation of mainly Western foreigners from Bouake, the rebels who control Cote d'Ivoire's second city prevented Ivorians from fleeing on foot or by car. The French have now withdrawn from Bouake. Reports from the city said thousands of panicky local residents, desperate to leave Bouake, tried and failed to slip past the rebel checkpoints heading south towards Yamoussoukro. But they were sent back. Earlier reports said some managed to escape while the French evacuation corridor was still open. But most Ivorians, and other Africans, are trapped in Bouake, fearing an imminent attack by government forces in an uprising that has already cost hundreds of lives. They are frightened that they will be caught in the crossfire, if the authorities carry out the threat to launch an all-out offensive against the mutineers, eight days after the start to the crisis the government is calling a failed coup against President Laurent Gbagbo. Thursday, the defence minister declared Bouake and all other rebel-occupied areas 'war zones'. Reports on Friday said the dissident soldiers had seized a third strategic town, cotton-producing Odienne in the northwest, tightening their grip on the north and giving the rebels almost total control of the section of Cote d'Ivoire that runs along the borders of neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali. Anti-Gbagbo troops continue to hold the main northern city, Korhogo, as well as Bouake and now Odienne, after their well-coordinated three-pronged surprise attack on September 19, which caught the government -- and the region -- off guard. The main city, Abidjan, and areas in western Cote d'Ivoire, Gbagbo's heartland and political stronghold, remain in government hands. Meanwhile, preparations have begun for a planned summit of West African leaders on Sunday. But it was announced Friday that the summit location had changed from Abidjan to the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Observers said it the high-level gathering would have further strained the already stretched loyalist security forces. On Thursday, key members of the Economic Community of West African States, Ecowas, weighed in to back what they called the 'legitimate' government headed by the beleaguered Gbagbo. Nigeria announced that it had dispatched three fighter jets and was standing by with troops, in case a decision was taken to send an intervention force to militarily support Gbagbo's government. Ghana's foreign minister, Hackman Owusu-Agyeman, told the BBC that he could not predict a regional military response to the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, but that this could not be excluded. "It would be very difficult to pre-determine the issues. But whatever it takes to bring peace to that neighbouring country of ours will be done". The minister said that Ghana would abide by its regional obligations and would "comply fully and assist under the Ecowas protocols". He said his country had not yet sent troops or fighter planes or any military assistance at all to Cote d'Ivoire, but that Accra pledged "absolute and total solidarity with the legitimate government of President Laurent Gbagbo". Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal have reiterated their determination to enforce Ecowas protocols on good governance, which Owusu-Agyeman said would not accept any unconstitutional government, adding: "We shall support each other". The Cote d'Ivoire government says the rebel troops tried to seize power in a coup, planned by the former military leader Robert Guei, who was killed on the first day of fighting. The Ecowas executive secretary, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, also a Ghanaian, told allAfrica Friday that 7 of the 15 regional heads of state had already confirmed their attendance at the Accra summit on Sunday. Chambas said these included Gbagbo and the Burkina Faso president, Blaise Compaore, whose country has been indirectly accused by Cote d'Ivoire of involvement in last week's coup. The Ecowas chief said he hoped the West African leaders would help the two patch up whatever disagreements existed between Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, as well as try to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the current violent conflict in Gbagbo's country, "through dialogue". Chambas said the rebels had not been invited to Accra, "because this is a summit of heads of state".

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