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State Dept. Says Ivory Coast Situation Remains 'Volatile' - 2002-10-18


The United States has welcomed the cease-fire and peace accord between government and rebel forces in Ivory Coast. But the State Department is also warning Americans against travel to the country and is evacuating non-essential embassy personnel and family members because of the turmoil.

The Bush administration had supported mediation efforts in Ivory Coast led by the West African economic grouping ECOWAS, and had sent Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner to the area last week for talks on the crisis.

In a statement to reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed U.S. support for the truce deal reached between the government of President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels, who have taken control of much of the northern and central parts of the country in the month-long conflict.

"We welcome the decision of the government and the rebels to sign a cease-fire agreement. We also applaud President Gbagbo's announcement that he will organize another reconciliation forum in order to promote national unity," he said. "We've commended, we've supported regional mediation efforts and urged all the parties to try to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner."

However, Mr. Boucher added that because the situation in the country remains "volatile" and "quite fluid," the State Department is ordering non-essential U.S. personnel and the families of all embassy employees in Ivory Coast to leave.

The evacuation order was accompanied by an official advisory to U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Ivory Coast, and for private Americans already in the country to leave while space is still available on outgoing flights.

The U.S. travel warning said while the capital Abidjan and other areas outside the zone of conflict may appear calm, the situation is "unpredictable."

An official here said the evacuation would reduce the current U.S. presence from about 200 embassy employees and family members down to about 40 staff members. Some non-essential personnel had already left the country under a voluntary departure plan authorized earlier.

About 2,800 U.S. private citizens are said to be currently residing in or visiting Ivory Coast.

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