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French Troops Prepare to Evacuate Foreigners from Bouake - 2002-09-26

French troops in Ivory Coast are preparing to evacuate French nationals and other foreigners from the rebel-held city of Bouake. Nations in the region are demonstrating support for the Ivory Coast government.

Nigeria led efforts to assist the government of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, by sending three fighter jets to Abidjan.

Military sources in Ivory Coast, who did not wish to be identified, said the aircraft would be used to fly over rebel targets, and possibly for attacking the rebels.

French troops said they would evacuate the hundreds of Westerners who have been trapped in Bouake since mutinous soldiers staged a revolt in the city and other parts of the country on September 19.

France moved troops into the city on Wednesday.

French forces moved a group of 160 school children, most of them Americans and 39 staffers from a missionary school in Bouake to neighboring Ghana. U.S. troops have been standing by to assist with evacuation efforts.

Rebels remain in control Bouake, following fierce gun and mortar battles between loyalist troops and rebels. Witnesses said they saw approximately 100 bodies of soldiers at the city morgue. It is not clear if they were the corpses of loyalists or rebels who were killed during this week's fighting.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Bouake in support of the mutinous soldiers. They called for the removal of President Laurent Gbagbo.

In Abidjan, government officials broadcast a message saying they were preparing to launch an offensive to free Bouake from the rebels.

Demonstrators took to the streets of the main city for a second day to express their support for the government.

Although Nigeria said it had no plans to deploy troops, there was an indication that foreign troops might become involved in the conflict.

During a visit to Abidjan, the head of the multi-national Economic Community of West African States said he would not rule out the deployment of peacekeeping forces by the organization.