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Violence Ebbs, Tension Persists in Ivory Coast

Times Staff Writer

Violence in Ivory Coast’s major cities subsided Sunday after the government agreed to a cease-fire and pulled back its forces, ending attacks aimed at seizing the north of the country from rebels.

But the situation remained tense after mobs wielding machetes looted property, attacked French peacekeepers and searched house to house for French civilians for a second day.

French troops destroyed almost all of the African country’s tiny air force Saturday after government warplanes killed nine French peacekeepers Saturday. An American aid worker also died in the government attack on the French base near Bouake in northern Ivory Coast.

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said he believed the security situation in Ivory Coast was “under control.”

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But Barnier warned that France would hold Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo responsible for any violence against French citizens. He also said that Ivorian “young patriots” reportedly being incited to violence by the government’s anti-French rhetoric were “close to” Gbagbo.

Gbagbo made his first public appearance since the crisis began by going on state television Sunday night and appealing for an end to anti-French crowd violence.

“I am calling on people to remain calm, I am asking all the demonstrators to return home. You must not give in to provocation,” Gbagbo said.

If the crisis persists, Barnier said the United Nations had “an entire arsenal” of punitive sanctions that could be applied against the Ivorian government, including “restricting the movement of people.” That was presumably a reference to limiting travel by Ivorian leaders.

Hundreds of French reinforcements flew into Ivory Coast on Sunday, and French troops were deployed at major points in the main city of Abidjan, on the southern coast, to protect thousands of French citizens who lived there. Dozens of people have fled their homes to safer locations.

French soldiers maintained control over the country’s two main airports, though thousands of pro-government demonstrators surrounded the Abidjan airport.

U.N. spokesman Jean Victor Nkolo said that about 150 people were reportedly injured in Sunday’s violence.

An Ivory Coast military spokesman called on all government troops to report for duty and help restore order in Abidjan, Nkolo said. “This is a positive de-escalation,” he said. “It is cooling down.”

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Ivory Coast’s pullback of forces came after pressure from the U.N. Security Council and the African Union.

A cease-fire in the country’s civil war was signed in May 2003, but rebels withdrew from a power-sharing government. Last week, government forces launched attacks on rebel positions in an effort to retake the north.

Military spokesman Col. Philippe Mangou said he was asking soldiers to retreat, “with death in my soul, with many regrets and with tears in my eyes,” because the military no longer had air power.

Both France and Ivory Coast threatened to press their cases at the U.N.

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France is seeking a Security Council arms embargo and other sanctions against Ivory Coast. Ivorian presidential spokesman Desire Tagro said the country would seek other Security Council actions against France, Associated Press reported.

“We are faced with aggression by one country against another country. We are going to inform the entire world ... that France has come to attack us,” Tagro said.

Nkolo said state television earlier in the day was repeatedly broadcasting calls for pro-government demonstrators to protest against the French.

Barnier said the presence of 4,000 French troops in Ivory Coast was justified and motivated by deep bonds between France and its former colony.

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“France has no intentions other than maintaining peace and stability,” he said. “France has no desire to destabilize.”

Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in Paris and Times wires services contributed to this report.


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