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Some Ivory Coast Military Officers Call for Withdrawl of French Peacekeepers - 2003-11-30


A group of army officers in Ivory Coast has called on French peacekeepers to leave the country so they can oust rebels from northern areas. The officers also called for the resignation of top generals, saying they were preventing the reunification of Ivory Coast.

A group of about 20 heavily armed officers appeared on state television Sunday giving 48 hours for the French troops to leave.

The group's spokesman who wore a red beret and appeared to be in his 50s was not identified. He said the French peacekeepers, calling them "those white guys", were preventing the liberation of northern Ivory Coast.

Several Ivorian journalists identified the spokesman as Lieutenant Zadi but this was not confirmed.

The spokesman also called on the Ivorian army chief of staff and other top generals to resign because he said they were preventing the liberation of northern Ivory Coast from rebel control.

He said the officers were not staging a coup, but were giving a warning that Ivorian soldiers were ready to resume fighting.

After the statement, regular programming resumed on state television.

A few minutes earlier, the same group of officers spoke on state radio with the same message.

The announcement came as President Laurent Gbagbo visited central Ivory Coast, where on Saturday French peacekeepers used tear gas to disperse a group of protesters and army officers trying to march toward the rebel stronghold of Bouake. Ivorian state television said French troops had also fired on an Ivorian army tank near the front line.

Speaking to a group of police officers in central Ivory Coast, Mr. Gbagbo called for patience. He said he was trying to get precise dates of disarmament from rebels so Ivory Coast could be liberated. He called the rebels "friends", and said they should rejoin a peaceful Ivory Coast.

Sunday, rebel leaders met in their stronghold of Bouake to discuss whether to rejoin a power-sharing reconciliation government. They left the government in September, accusing President Gbagbo of blocking the implementation of a French-brokered peace deal.

The accord includes giving Ivorian nationality and voting rights to many northerners, now considered immigrants. Mr. Gbagbo has called on the rebels to disarm immediately.

Full-scale fighting ended late last year when several thousand French peacekeepers deployed on the front line dividing the government-run south from the rebel-held north. The rebels began their insurgency on September 19, 2002, but the Ivorian army quickly pushed them back from the commercial capital Abidjan and other southern areas.

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