France begins evacuation from Ivory Coast

10th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Nov 10 (AFP) - France began evacuating its nationals and other Europeans from violence-torn Ivory Coast Wednesday, when an Air France Boeing-777 took off from Abidjan airport for Paris with 270 people on board, French military officials said here.

ABIDJAN, Nov 10 (AFP) - France began evacuating its nationals and other Europeans from violence-torn Ivory Coast Wednesday, when an Air France Boeing-777 took off from Abidjan airport for Paris with 270 people on board, French military officials said here.

The first flight was expected to be followed by an Airbus A-330 which would evacuate another 250 people, French military officials said here, with a third flight expected to be operated later Wednesday.

The United Nations has also begun evacuating non-essential personnel staff from Abidjan, a local UN official said, while large French companies were preparing to help their staff leave Abidjan, officials at several of the multi-nationals, including Bollore which manages the port facilities in the city, told AFP.

In Paris, French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the cabinet passed an emergency measure which would allow it to requisition passenger aircraft and allow them to land at Abidjan's airport, despite the facility being in the hands of the French military since Saturday.

"We approved a proposal this morning to allow aircraft to land at Abidjan airport, which would normally not be possible because the airport is currently held by the military.

"Three planes will land this evening (in Abidjan) and will allow anyone who wishes to be repatriated to leave," she said on France 3 television.

The decree passed by the government also allows it to "requisition aircraft belonging to French airlines" to help evacuate French and other European nationals from Ivory Coast, where at least 145 people have been killed since last week when the country's two-year-old low-level civil war saw a sharp upswing in violence.

Commercial traffic has been halted at Abidjan airport since Saturday, when the French military took control of the facility following clashes between French soldiers, an Ivorian hard-line group that backs President Laurent Gbagbo and government troops.

The civil war in the former French west African colony has been simmering since a failed attempt by rebels to oust Gbagbo in September 2002, escalated last week when government forces bombarded two towns in the rebel-held north of the country.

In the last of the attacks, the Ivorian air force bombarded an encampment in Bouake housing French troops monitoring a buffer zone that cuts through the centre of Ivory Coast, dividing it into the rebel-controlled north and pro-Gbagbo south.

Nine French soldiers were killed and 38 wounded in the attack.

The French retaliated swiftly and decisively, wiping out the Ivorian air force. That action sparked sprees of looting and violence targeting Europeans in Abidjan and San Pedro, the two largest cities in Ivory Coast, both in the government-held south.

Around 1,300 Europeans, most of them French, sought shelter at the French permanent base in Port Bouet, near Abidjan airport. Another 1,600 were holed up at UN premises in Abidjan.

Forty-nine of the 450 Belgians who live in Ivory Coast will fly out Wednesday on one of the French flights and a Belgian Hercules C-130 transport plane will be stationed in nearby Benin to help with the evacuation if need be, the defence and foreign ministries said in Brussels.

Italy's foreign ministry said it was sending a C-130 to Abidjan later Wednesday to begin repatriating any of the 550 Italian citizens resident in Ivory Coast who wish to leave.

A Spanish air force Boeing-707 with a capacity for 160 passengers took off Wednesday morning from a military base on the Canary Islands and was expected to take between 40 and 50 Spaniards out of Abidjan the same afternoon.

Britain has sent a small team of military experts to Abidjan to evaluate the situation, while Canada, Germany and Sweden are also preparing to evacuate their citizens.

The United States and Russia have said they have no plans as yet to evacuate their nationals.

All evacuation efforts will be overseen by the French army, according to the spokesman for the French military here, Colonel Henry Aussavy.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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