French army sets up Togo base for I Coast crisis

9th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - The French military has set up a forward base in Togo to allow it to have aircraft within easy reach of Ivory Coast, which saw a sudden escalation in its two-year-old civil war last week, officials said here Tuesday.

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - The French military has set up a forward base in Togo to allow it to have aircraft within easy reach of Ivory Coast, which saw a sudden escalation in its two-year-old civil war last week, officials said here Tuesday.

"We are setting up a military transit relay in Lome," Colonel Gerard Dubois told AFP from French military headquarters in Paris.

He stressed, however, that the installation of the forward base did not mean there were firm plans to evacuate foreigners from Ivory Coast, who have been the target of hate attacks since the weekend.

"Evacuation is neither decided nor on the agenda, but it must be said that the number of (foreign) residents continues to climb at Port-Bouet," site of the permanent French military base in Abidjan, he said.

Ivory Coast saw a sudden escalation in its low-level civil war last week, when forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo attacked the central city of Bouake, and Korhogo in the north, both strongholds of rebels whose attempt to oust Gbagbo in September 2002 plunged the country into division and conflict.

Nine French soldiers who were stationed in Bouake to patrol a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and government-controlled south were killed when Ivorian forces bombed their encampment on Saturday.

The French riposte was swift and decisive, with President Jacques Chirac ordering a retaliatory attack which effectively wiped out the Ivorians' air strike capacity.

France also sent military reinforcements to its former star colony in west Africa, who Chirac insisted were there only to protect French nationals who were forced from their homes and the target of hate attacks after the French retaliation.

Some 1,300 foreigners - 800 French and 500 other nationalities - have sought refuge at the French base since the weekend's violence.

France has two other forward bases near Ivory Coast - in Senegal and Gabon - but both are further away than Lome.

"Allowing our planes to transit through Lome is easier than through Dakar or Libreville," said Dubois.

"We are not going to leave at Abidjan airport all the aircraft that have been sent there," Dubois said, referring to French military planes that carried troop reinforcements and logistics equipment, food and supplies to Ivory Coast to help deal with the current crisis.

Abidjan was "calm" overnight, Dubois said, but added that "looters are still active" and efforts to move foreign residents from their homes to the safety of the French base "are continuing, sometimes in particularly difficult conditions."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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