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French Troops Secure Ivory Coast School - 2002-09-25

French troops in Ivory Coast have evacuated a group of schoolchildren, most of them American, trapped in fighting between government troops and rebels in the central city of Bouake.

The children and staff-members of International Christian Academy, an American-run missionary school, left the embattled city aboard a convoy escorted by French troops.

U.S. troops had earlier flown into Ivory Coast's political capital, Yamoussoukro, about 100 kilometers away, to take part in the rescue operation.

The evacuation ended a five-day ordeal for the 160 children and 39 staff members of the school. Officials said the group had been terrified as heavy gun and mortar fire rang out near the school during the past few days.

School spokesman Neil Gilliland, in the U.S. state of Tennessee, expressed relief when French troops secured the school.

"The people there are very happy. We are just very, very appreciative for what the French have done," he said.

France sent troops to the region to help protect hundreds of French nationals who live in Bouake.

The U.S. special forces came at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, amid mounting fear over the safety of the children and staff at the school. Residents said Bouake remained relatively calm, following a day of intense gun and mortar fire on Tuesday. They said it was not clear whether loyalist troops had taken the city or whether it was still under rebel control.

Foreign troops rushed to protect their citizens as the Ivory Coast government continued to battle mutinous soldiers following initial attacks on Thursday.

The country is under a nighttime curfew following the attacks in Abidjan, Bouake, and Korhogo. The assaults were led by disgruntled soldiers who mutinied in protest of the government's plans to downsize the military.

Government forces secured Abidjan after a fierce battle last Thursday killed at least 270 people.

The government describes the coordinated attacks as a coup attempt, which officials allege was instigated by an unidentified neighboring country.

The allegation has caused tensions to flare between Ivorians and the large community of immigrant workers from Burkina Faso. Hundreds of mostly young government supporters rallied angrily outside the Burkina Faso embassy in Abidjan.

The protesters, who accused Burkina Faso of supporting rebels, tore down the Burkinabe flag before they were dispersed by police. Demonstrators also rallied outside the French Embassy.