French troops pull back in Ivory Coast

24th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Nov 23 (AFP) - French troops stationed in Ivory Coast on Tuesday pulled back from positions around the commercial capital Abidjan, reducing their presence after weeks of unrest that sent thousands of French expatriates fleeing.

ABIDJAN, Nov 23 (AFP) - French troops stationed in Ivory Coast on Tuesday pulled back from positions around the commercial capital Abidjan, reducing their presence after weeks of unrest that sent thousands of French expatriates fleeing.

French military posts at the entrance and exit to Abidjan's international airport were dismantled, and vehicles stationed along the tarmac were driven off, airport sources told AFP.

Ivorian police officers took up the foot patrols at the terminal, replacing the French military police who had since November 6 secured the airport and its buildings.

France seized the airport and wiped out the Ivory Coast airforce to retaliate for an air strike on its base in the central town of Bouake, a stronghold of Ivory Coast's northern rebels, which killed nine peacekeepers and a US aid worker.

The strike was one in a string of air raids over three days on positions in the rebel-held north, violating an 18-month-old ceasefire and killing at least 85 people according to an unconfirmed toll given by the rebel leadership.

The aggressive response unleashed a fury of anti-French violence and vandalism in Abidjan and sparked clashes between a reinforced French military presence and supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, who accused Paris of staging a coup d'etat.

Ivorian authorities have given a casualty toll of 63 dead and more than 1,300 people injured in the clashes in Abidjan. No independent toll is available.

French troops have been on the ground in their former star colony in west Africa since October 2002 after a failed coup bid by renegade military troops plunged the country into civil war.

Alongside some 6,200 UN peacekeepers, French troops under the Operation Unicorn force also patrol a ceasefire zone separating rebel north from government south.

Unicorn spokesman Colonel Henry Aussavy told AFP that France would maintain a "discreet presence" at the airport and would assure overall security for the airport complex, where international commercial flights have resumed after more than a week.

France's flagship carrier Air France announced Tuesday that from November 29 it would begin flying twice a week from Paris and twice a week from Abidjan owing to popular demand.

Airline spokesman Serge Kouakou told AFP in Abidjan that the carrier would hold off on resuming its daily flights until there was a perceived need.

French tanks that had rolled into several of Abidjan's neighbourhoods, many of which were ransacked and looted during the violence, were seen rumbling through the streets of what had been one of Africa's most modern and sophisticated cities.

On the main axis in the southern part of the coastal city, the Valery Giscard d'Estaing boulevard, French troops withdrew completely from the positions they had held since November 6.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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