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French Peacekeepers Surround Bouake Bank After Hold-up Attempt - 2003-09-27


In Ivory Coast, French peacekeepers have surrounded a bank in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, where an attempted holdup led to fighting that resulted in close to two dozen deaths.

Trouble erupted in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second city, with an attempted bank robbery. Witnesses say rebel groups engaged in a gunfight, as one group tried to defend the bank, while others were said to have joined looters at the scene.

Further chaos occurred when civilians tried to get a share of the spoils.

The fighting and gunshots caused panic in the city, although the arrival of French troops Saturday is said to have calmed the situation. Rebel leaders reportedly called on the French forces to provide assistance.

France has 4,000 peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast, manning a demilitarized "Confidence Zone" between rebel forces in the north of the country and government-controlled territory to the south.

The violence in Bouake follows a week of political tension. On Tuesday the rebels, now known as the New Forces, pulled out of the government of reconciliation. The New Forces accuse President Gbagbo of seeking to undermine the Marcoussis peace agreement, which was brokered by France in January.

The north of Ivory Coast has been cut off from the rest of the country since the rebellion one year ago. Since that time, economic activity has been seriously impeded, and poverty has grown.

Analysts say hopes that peace can be restored and Ivory Coast reunited through the Marcoussis peace accord are increasingly in doubt.

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