- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — French troops clashed with soldiers and angry mobs yesterday after Ivory Coast warplanes killed at least nine French peacekeepers and an American civilian in an air strike — mayhem that threatened to draw foreign troops deeper into the West African country’s escalating civil war.

France hit back, destroying what it said was the entire Ivory Coast air force — two Russian-made Sukhoi jets used in the bombing and five helicopter gunships. France scrambled three Mirage fighter jets to West Africa and ordered about 300 troops to be readied for deployment in Ivory Coast.

Mob violence erupted in Ivory Coast’s national commercial capital, Abidjan, after France’s retaliation. Thousands of angry loyalists armed with machetes, axes and clubs ran into the streets in fiery rampages in search of French targets.

“French go home,” loyalist mobs shouted, as thousands set fire to at least two French schools and tried to storm a French military base, seeking out French civilians as French and Ivory Coast forces briefly traded gunfire.

“Everybody get your Frenchman,” young men screamed to each other, swinging machetes.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo would be “held personally responsible by the international community for [maintaining] the public order in Abidjan.”

The U.N. Security Council, convening in emergency session, demanded an immediate halt to all military action in Ivory Coast and emphasized that U.N. and French forces here were authorized to use “all necessary means” to keep the peace.

French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said he will draft a resolution to impose an arms embargo on Ivory Coast. Paris also will seek to impose U.N. sanctions against those blocking the peace process, violating human rights and preventing the disarmament of fighters, he said.

Hard-liners in Ivory Coast’s military broke a more than year-old cease-fire, launching surprise air strikes Thursday against rebel positions and vowing to retake the northern part of the country held by rebels since the civil war began in 2002.

Government officials said yesterday’s air strike that hit a French peacekeeper position was an accident — but the violence highlighted the nationalist fervor in the pro-government south.

Many there resent the French troops, suspecting them of siding with rebels, even though the peacekeepers have protected government troops in the past. France has about 4,000 troops in Ivory Coast, and a separate U.N. peacekeeping force numbers around 6,000.

A French defense ministry spokesman said on the condition of anonymity that the United States had shown “great understanding about France’s concerns in Ivory Coast.” But he did not know whether U.S. military assistance had been sought.

The U.N. force includes thousands of West African troops, with the rest coming from an array of contributing nations, none American.

Yesterday’s violence began when government warplanes struck French positions at Brobo, near the northern town of Bouake, U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux said.

Eight French soldiers were killed and 30 others wounded, French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said in Paris. An American citizen also was killed in the raid, the French presidency said without elaborating.

A ninth French soldier died of his wounds, Mr. de La Sabliere said in New York.

Council diplomats said the American who was killed was believed to have worked for a nongovernmental organization and to have been at the French base.

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