- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast French citizens lined up for flights out of their country's former colony yesterday as many in the west African nation of Ivory Coast braced for a violent collapse of a peace deal between rebels and the government.

West African leaders gathered in Senegal to try to stave off a feared resumption and spread of fighting in Ivory Coast, long one of the economic hubs for the region.

In Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, residents who had little hope of escape waited outside banks to withdraw savings and sealed store windows with concrete blocks.

"We can't leave, but we're obliged to watch everyone else leave. We have to stay until the whole place falls apart," said Lamine Konate, a clerk at an airline check-in counter where French and other foreigners waited to leave the country.

French citizens in Abidjan have been targets of attacks by hard-core government supporters angry over the France-brokered peace deal that they claim gives too much power to rebels in the civil war that began four months ago.

France's Defense Ministry said that it was sending an additional 130 paramilitary reinforcements to Abidjan to safeguard its citizens, boosting the 70 paramilitary police and the more than 2,000 troops it has in the country to support a fragile cease-fire and protect foreign residents.

Ivory Coast waited yesterday for the reaction of President Laurent Gbagbo to the peace accord, which has been renounced by his political party, the army, and others in his government.

The pact reportedly would cede control of the interior and defense ministries to the rebels, which opponents in the government say is unacceptable.

The president has promised, since returning from negotiations in France, to brief his people on the peace effort in a national TV address. Mr. Gbagbo has not yet said definitively whether he will stick to the deal.

If he supports the deal, he could face a mutiny within his government; if he rejects it, the rebels could resume the civil war that has split the country and forced thousands from their homes.

In the meantime, many of the foreigners who remain in Abidjan a sprawling city of 3 million with high-rise buildings and crowded highways stayed indoors, while citizens reopened shops and repaired the damage from riots sparked by opposition to the accord.

A number of French companies chartered flights on Wednesday for families of employees.

"I saw a sign that said 'Kill the French' and that's worrying," said Jean-Pierre Vivet, an aid worker from Paris as he waited with others at the airport.

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