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Ivory Coast Military Attacks Rebel Positions

Military and rebel commanders in Ivory Coast say war has resumed, after military planes carried out raids on northern rebel positions. The fighting began despite the presence of international peacekeepers and efforts to implement a peace deal.

Eyewitnesses in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, including this local journalist, say the military attack by Russian-made Sukhoi jets started in an eastern part of the city near a rebel camp.

The eyewitness says most residents are now terrified and staying at home, while rebel fighters are putting up roadblocks.

French military officials, heading a rapid reaction force of more than 4000 soldiers, said there was a second raid later in the day.

Rebel political leaders say the attacks were expected. They said there were several injuries, and electricity, water, and some phone lines had been cut in parts of Bouake.

A rebel spokesman Drissa Ouattara says he is not sure what the French soldiers as well as more than 6000 U.N. peacekeepers are doing.

"We do not understand why they did not do anything to stop these planes to do what they have done," he said. "We do not understand what is the meaning of their mission now in our country. We do not know what is the use of the United Nations forces in our country. That is the question we are asking now."

The top rebel military commander Cherif Ousmane says it was a declaration of renewed war, but he did not say what rebel fighters intended to do.

French military officials described the attacks, but also refused to say what they would do about them. U.N. officials also declined immediate comment, but said they were holding an urgent meeting.

The air attacks were launched from the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, by the head of military operations there, Philippe Mangou.

His spokesman, who refused to be identified, spoke to VOA, saying the army is furious rebels have refused to disarm nearly two years after initial cease-fires were agreed to.

He says the army will continue attacks until the rebel-held north is liberated, or at least disarmed.

Rebels refused to start disarming by a deadline of October 15, because the national unity government failed to implement the latest peace deal signed in late July in Ghana. It called for a series of key reforms giving equal rights to many northerners now treated as foreigners to be passed before the end of September.

There was also a rally at military headquarters in the commercial capital, Abidjan, by so-called Young Patriots and militia groups calling on the army to take forceful action.

The rebel insurgency was launched in September 2002, but major fighting stopped quickly with the deployment of French soldiers several weeks later. Their deployment also effectively divided the world's leading cocoa producer in two.