- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast French troops started evacuating foreigners from a western rebel-held city yesterday after gunbattles with shadowy insurgent groups.
The firefights broke out as the French soldiers sought to secure the Man airport for the evacuation mission.
"They are gathering them at the airport in Man. They will be evacuated in a plane to Abidjan," said Lt. Col. Ange-Antoine Leccia, spokesman for the 1,000-member French force.
There are about 80 French citizens in the Man region, and a smaller number of other Europeans.
One French soldier was injured in the clashes to secure the airport, Lt. Leccia said. The soldier was evacuated to the commercial capital, Abidjan, and his wounds were not life-threatening. Lt. Leccia said at least five rebels had been killed.
Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has been divided three ways as a two-month rebel uprising evolves into a multifront war in the former French colony.
The government holds the south, including the commercial capital and strategic port of Abidjan. The rebels who began the Sept. 19 uprising control the north, and the new insurgents hold the mountainous west.
French forces evacuated hundreds of French, Americans and other foreigners from rebel-held towns in the north at the start of the uprising, whisking them out by helicopter or securing roads for overland departures.
The 1,000-member French force is also monitoring a cease-fire agreed to by the northern rebels and the army Oct. 17 but which has crumbled in recent days.
Rebels calling themselves the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Greater West hold two towns in the west: the key cocoa city Man and Danane, 43 miles further west, near the Liberian border.
Danane is just 19 miles from the border with Liberia, itself battered by a brutal seven-year war waged by many anarchic factions and a rebellion that still pitches government forces against insurgents based in the north.
The northern rebels, who call themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, say they have nothing to do with the fighting in the west. But the government says the rebel groups are working together.
The statement by the Popular Movement rebels was signed by Sgt. Felix Doh. It said the rebels wanted to avenge the death of former junta leader Gen. Robert Guei, who was fatally shot in the early hours of the uprising.
Gen. Guei led Ivory Coast's first-ever coup in 1999 and was fervently supported in the west.
Government officials also say there is a second group of western rebels, the previously unknown Movement for Justice and Peace, also believed to include supporters of Gen. Guei.
The western rebels also said they captured the town of Toulepleu, near the border with Liberia. Military officials confirmed the attack but did not know the outcome.
Peace talks in nearby Togo seemed on the brink of collapse after West African mediators rejected the latest rebel proposals. The discussions have stalled on demands that President Laurent Gbagbo resign.


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