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Ivory Coast Military Detains Hundreds in Capital - 2004-09-28

The Ivory Coast military has detained more than 250 people during a security crackdown in the central political capital Yamoussoukro. The detentions come amid fears of possible renewed fighting involving northern rebels.

A local journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, says military sweeps in Yamoussoukro neighborhoods began on Friday. He says army troops picked up dozens of northerners and foreigners and detained them at a military camp.

He said that the sweeps continued until early Monday.

At that point, he said more than 130 people were picked up as they left mosques after morning prayers.

The journalist said that some of the officers carrying out the detentions had been given orders to look for rebels.

He said they told him they were afraid armed rebels had infiltrated Yamoussoukro following a friendship soccer match against the army on September 21.

Army Colonel Phillipe Mangou who organized the sweeps denies these have any link with countering the rebellion. But he confirmed many foreigners were among those detained, including Burkinabes and Malians.

He said that the sweeps follow growing insecurity in Yamoussoukro, including residential attacks, even murder. He says officers are checking the papers of those detained and if the documents are in order they are released.

He did not say what will be done with the nearly 200 people, mostly foreigners, who remain in custody.

At the time, the goodwill soccer game was seen as a breakthrough in the peace process, as indicated by the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Mathias Doue.

"I am very confident in the success we are going to achieve inside of what we are developing now to bring back peace to our country," he said. "Be confident and try to observe what is happening."

But the detentions come amid fears throughout Ivory Coast that fighting could resume between the army and the rebels. There have been army troop movements throughout the southern commercial capital Abidjan in recent days, while rebel leaders have been unreachable on their cell phones. Some of their aides say they have traveled outside the country.

The rebels and President Laurent Gbagbo signed their latest peace agreement in Ghana in July. It calls for new laws expanding rights to many northerners now treated as second-class citizens.

The latest deal set deadlines for the reforms to be passed by parliament before the end of September, so disarmament could begin by October 15. But the constitutional changes have not been passed because of disagreements on their details.

The insurgency started in September 2002 with a failed coup.