Calls are growing among West African leaders who want France to help Ivory Coast's government end a rebellion that is spreading across the center and north of the country.
Ivory Coast Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan told French journalists Saturday his government wants France, the former colonial power, to help the government battle renegade soldiers, who continue to hold a number of cities and towns north of Abidjan.
Mr. N'Guessan said it was logistical support, not troops, that Ivory Coast wants from France. The French military already maintains about 600 troops at a base in Abidjan. In recent days, France has sent reinforcements to Ivory Coast to help with evacuation of its nationals from rebel-held areas.
The call for French help was echoed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, the head of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS. A French newspaper Le Parisien on Saturday quoted Mr. Wade as saying France should send logistical aid, if ECOWAS decides to send a multinational force of West African peacekeepers to Ivory Coast.
The matter of whether to dispatch a peacekeeping force was to be on the agenda Sunday, when ECOWAS leaders and ministers meet in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to discuss the Ivory Coast crisis. Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is scheduled to attend.
Calls for outside assistance came as renegade soldiers continued to take more towns in the center and north of the country under their control. Rebels, town officials and residents on Friday said the large town of Odienne, near the border of Guinea, was the latest to fall into the hands of rebels.
The Ivory Coast government has declared the center and north of the country a war zone and pledged to launch an offensive against renegade forces in those areas. France on Friday finished evacuating more than 1,000 of its citizens, and others, including hundreds of Americans, from rebel-held Bouake, Ivory Coast's second largest city.
State television late Friday announced rebels had released the country's sports minister, whom they had been holding in Bouake, since the start of hostilities.
Fighting has killed hundreds, since renegade soldiers launched initial attacks on Bouake, the northern town of Korhogo and Abidjan on September 19. The soldiers mutinied over grievances that included the government's plans to demobilize 700 of them, as part of a restructuring of the military. They have vowed to move their way south to Abidjan.
The government describes the mutiny as a coup attempt and accuses an unidentified neighboring country of taking part. The accusations have led to attacks by Ivorian security forces and citizens against Ivory Coast's large community of immigrant workers from Burkina Faso.
Officials of the Burkina Faso president's office on Saturday said Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore will be among those attending Sunday's ECOWAS meeting in Ghana.