I.Coast Japan envoy rescue raid over in 30 minutes: France

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The raid to extract Japan's Ivory Coast envoy from his residence after strongman Laurent Gbagbo's forces took it over was unproblematic and took less than 30 minutes, the French military said Thursday.

"There was no major fighting, and no injuries among the French soldiers involved," military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said after the overnight raid in Abidjan to free ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura and seven aides.

"One of the seven aides was wounded when the mercenaries took over the residence," and they are being treated at the French military camp at Port Bouet, Burkhard said, showing a video of Okamura in apparent good health.

The raid by France's Licorne (Unicorn) force came after the UN informed them that Okamura was being held against his will amid fighting between Gbagbo's forces and those of internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara.

The envoy had made his way to a safe room and contacted Japanese authorities as forces loyal to Gbagbo set up mortars and rocket-launchers on the residence roof, Burkhard said.

"From there they fired towards residential areas and other diplomatic residences, especially of the French embassy."

French troops in helicopters intervened at around 11:00 pm and the operation happened "very quickly and without any particular problem."

"In less than half an hour, the ambassador and his colleagues were evacuated to Port Bouet," Burkhard said.

"Our troops were (then) engaged, which led to a response, mainly with anti-tank missiles, he said, without being able to say whether the response had led to any casualties.

"At least one armoured vehicle and two pick-ups with mounted heavy machine guns" were destroyed and the attackers fled.

"At the end of the operation the residence was empty," Burkhard said.

© 2011 AFP

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