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France Pressures Ivory Coast Government to Cease All Military Action


After suffering its biggest casualties since its peacekeeping operation began in Ivory Coast two years ago, France is stepping up pressure on Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to cease all military action. The French government says it will hold Mr. Gbagbo personally responsible for maintaining public order.

The French government made its message loud and clear Saturday. Speaking to reporters in Paris, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot Marie said she wanted to pass a message to Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mrs. Alliot Marie said the international community would hold President Gbagbo personally responsible for maintaining public order in the capital, Abidjan. French forces would take all necessary measures, she said. But it was up to Mr. Gbagbo to keep public order.

The strong warning followed a muscular reprisal by French forces in Ivory Coast, after Mr. Gbagbo's forces killed nine French soldiers and one American during an air raid on a French army camp. In retaliation, French forces blew up two Ivorian warplanes and later three more helipcoters in the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier described the action as legitimate retaliation.

Mr. Gbagbo has even received a personal warning from French President Jacques Chirac, who told him by phone not to take any action liable to break the country's shaky ceasefire.

Besides the government air raid, demonstrators torched a French school in Abidjan. And others attacked French troops in Man, a city held by rebel troops, angry over France's supposed support for the Ivorian government.

The French warnings have been buttressed by the international community. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has also accused Mr. Gbagbo of violating the peace accords.

And Mrs. Alliot Marie said United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the head of the African Union, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, both backed a draft UN resolution condemning the Ivorian government's military offensive. The United Nations held an emergency meeting laet Saturday in New York on the Ivory Coast.

France help cobble a shaky peace accord between the government and Ivorian in Paris in January 2003, after civil broke out in the West African country in the fall of 2002. But neither side has held to the agreement, and both have accused Paris of supporting the other side.

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