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Ivory Coast Military Officials Vow Assault on Rebel Held Cities - 2002-09-22

Military officials in Ivory Coast are vowing to launch an assault soon on the West African country's second largest city, Bouake. The city remains under the control of rebels who continue to hold out following a bloody coup attempt Thursday.

Military convoys headed hundreds of kilometers north from Abidjan to the cities of Bouake and Korhogo, where the government has vowed to crush the rebellion which began in the two cities at the same time that a mutiny broke out in Abidjan on Thursday.

Defense Minister, Moise Lida Kouassi, vowed there would be a fierce fight to recapture Bouake and Korhogo, saying loyalist soldiers would not stop until they had taken out all pockets of resistance.

However, the country's Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan appeared on national television Saturday saying President Laurent Gbagbo is willing to examine the mutinous soldiers' grievances and avert an assault on the two cities if the rebels agree to give up their weapons.

The government says it regained full control of Abidjan, but there were signs of remaining tension in the city on Saturday.

Paramilitary police continued to set fire to the shanty homes of impoverished immigrants from neighboring African countries. Officials said they were doing so as part of an effort to weed out those suspected of taking part in Thursday's coup attempt, which the government claims was carried out with the help of an unidentified foreign country.

Scores of people could be seen leaving their neighborhoods carrying their belongings on their heads.

Thirty-five-year-old Gilbert Djiguembe , an immigrant worker from Burkina Faso told VOA paramilitary police officers attacked his home in Abidjan's Agban-Deux Plateaux neighborhood, forcing him, his wife, and his 3-year-old daughter to flee.

Mr. Djiguembe says, "they broke into my house. They looted it. They took our money and our gas bottle." Then, he says, "they set the neighborhood on fire, and we fled. Some of the officers said that we should go back to our country, that they are tired of us and they accused us, the people of Burkina Faso, of coming here to launch a coup d'etat." Mr. Djiguembe says, "it is not right that they accuse us of that. We know nothing about their coup d'etat. It is all between them."

Some displaced residents sought assistance at the Abidjan headquarters of the U.N. Refugee agency, which was working to determine what to do with the scores of newly displaced people.

In his televised remarks, Ivory Coast's Prime Minister said the government's battle is not against immigrants.

Bands of young government supporters wielding sticks and machetes were seen roaming the streets of Abidjan Saturday, threatening to attack opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Military officials remained on edge, and resorted to harassing foreign journalists who were covering the unrest. Soldiers in Abidjan on Saturday arrested two western reporters on unspecified charges outside the offices of the U.N. Refugee agency. The two men Briton and a Frenchman were released after about two hours.

The government says the violence of recent days has killed at least 270 people. The latest bout caps three years of ethnic and political strife that was unleashed when Ivory Coast, once considered a model of stability in the region, experienced its first-ever military coup in 1999.

The man who led that coup, General Robert Guei, was among those killed during 12 hours of heavy gunfire in Abidjan on Thursday. The government claims the general, a strong Gbagbo critic, was behind the latest coup attempt.

The general's wife, son, and grandchildren were shot to death when gunmen stormed their home during Thursday's fighting. The killing of the Guei family has angered supporters in the general's native region in the northwest of the country, where reports said Guei supporters have attacked backers of President Gbagbo.

Among those killed during Thursday's violence was the country's interior minister, Emile Boga Doudou.

Gunmen also stormed and looted the house of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who escaped to the French Embassy. Mr. Ouattara has been at the heart of a political crisis in which his supporters mainly Muslims from the north have been at odds with President Gbagbo's followers who are largely from the Christian south and west.