France said on December 11, 2002, it would immediately send more soldiers to Ivory Coast and was ready to host a summit of African leaders in Paris to end war in its former West African colony. File photo shows crack French soldiers viewing the surrounding area through binoculars at a new roadblock 60 kms west of Daloa, December 7, 2002
Ivory Coast Rebels Threaten War with French Troops
Fri December 13, 2002 08:59 PM ET
By John Zodzi
LOME (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's main rebel group has threatened war against French troops, thrusting the former colony closer to the anarchy that has engulfed nearby nations in West Africa.
France has some 1,500 soldiers monitoring a shaky cease-fire between the government and the rebels who seized the north of the once stable country in an armed uprising in September.
Hundreds of reinforcements due to begin arriving on Saturday will make it France's biggest intervention force in Africa since it backed Chad's government in the 1980s.
France, which initially deployed troops to protect thousands of its citizens in Ivory Coast, invited the rebel Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) to peace talks in Paris, provided it proved its political credentials.
But the rebels' chief negotiator at talks in the Togolese capital Lome told France to get out or face war.
"The French force in Ivory Coast is deviating from its mission and becoming a true force of occupation. In light of this, the MPCI will fight and its forces are ready to take up the challenge of war," Guillaume Soro said late on Friday.
West African leaders also stepped up the pace planning a summit in Togo to chart a way out of the deepening war in which hundreds have died and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes.
U.N. agencies said they were preparing for a possible refugee crisis in the world's top cocoa grower, where attacks by two new rebel factions have thrown peace efforts into confusion.
Refugee agency UNHCR said 100,000 people, mainly immigrants, had fled abroad, and many more had left their homes.
France also said it would ask the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate massacres in Ivory Coast, split between northern-based rebels and loyalist forces. Both sides are accused of summary executions and other abuses.
Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema is planning a summit next week with Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade and other prominent regional leaders to end the crisis.
Eyadema has been hosting peace talks in Togo's capital Lome since the end of October, but scant progress has been made.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also plans to send a buffer force to Ivory Coast although Nigeria, which led regional forces to curb anarchic wars in nearby Liberia and Sierra Leone, has said it will not send troops.
But delays assembling the force have left French troops monitoring the cease-fire agreed in October between the rebel MPCI and the government, which now faces two new rebel factions in the west backed by Liberian fighters.
The government has hired foreign mercenaries and thousands of youths have volunteered to fight the rebels.
Growing animosity between northern Muslims and Christians from further south such as President Laurent Gbagbo have been at the heart of Ivory Coast's crisis since a military coup in 1999.