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US Condemns Government Air Strikes in Ivory Coast

The United States Thursday condemned air raids launched by the Ivory Coast government against rebel positions in the northern part of the country. The State Department urged both sides to adhere to peace accords reached last years.

The air strikes against positions around the self-proclaimed rebel capital town of Bouake were described as the most serious escalation in the West African country's civil conflict in more than a year. And they produced appeals for restraint from both U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the U.S. State Department.

Mr. Annan briefed the U.N. Security Council on the fighting and urged both government and rebel forces to immediately cease hostilities and resume action of the French-brokered Linas-Marcoussis peace accords signed by the two sides last year, though not fully implemented.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is deeply concerned about the implications the air raids may have for the country's stability.

"We're urging all the parties to exercise restraint and continue to work together to decrease tensions and to pursue the peace process in accordance with their commitments to the Linas-Marcoussis accords," he said.

Mr. Boucher said there were at least three air attacks on Bouake during the day Thursday but said he had no information on casualties. The non-governmental aid group Doctors Without Borders said it treated nearly 40 wounded people there, nearly half of them civilians.

Rebels have been in control of the northern regions of Ivory Coast since a failed coup in September, 2002. Government army officers said the air raids were the start of an offensive to retake the territory.

Rebels accuse the power-sharing government of President Laurent Gbagbo of blocking progress on political reforms that are part of the peace accords, while Mr. Gbagbo says he has done all he can to implement the changes.

In written comments, State Department Spokesman Boucher urged action on reform. He said U.S. officials are deeply disturbed that political leaders on all sides have thus far failed to put the welfare of the people of Ivory Coast above narrow political interests.

Mr. Boucher said those parties that continue to undermine the peace process and seek to resume the war will be held accountable.