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West African Leaders Agree to Peacekeeping Force in Ivory Coast - 2002-09-29

West African leaders meeting Sunday in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, have agreed to deploy an international peacekeeping force to help Ivory Coast's government put down a rebellion in the center and north of the country. The decision came as U.S. and French troops carried out a dramatic rescue of foreigners in the north of the country.

U.S. and French forces landed transport planes Sunday in the northern rebel-held city of Korhogo, where they encountered gunfire from renegade Ivory Coast soldiers who have been holding the city for more than a week.

U.S. troops bearing assault rifles escorted scores of evacuees, including missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, and others onto the aircraft. From Korhogo, the evacuees were flown to a staging ground in the Ivory Coast political capital, Yamoussoukro.

Korhogo is one of several cities in the north and center of the country that remain under the control of anti-government forces. The government has said it is ready to launch an assault on rebels in the areas.

Leaders of the nations making up the Economic Community of West African States meeting in Accra, meanwhile, agreed Sunday to deploy peacekeeping troops to help Ivory Coast government forces.

The head of ECOWAS, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said the force, which could number between three and four-thousand troops, would be deployed immediately.

The measure was taken as a number of cities in the center and north of Ivory Coast remain under the control of anti-government forces who launched initial attacks on Abidjan and other cities on September 19th. Spokesmen for the renegade soldiers say they launched their initial attacks in anger over the government's plans to demobilize 700 of them as part of an effort to streamline the military.

The mutinous soldiers say they intend to capture more towns and eventually move south to Abidjan.

Ivory Coast's armed forces are made up of 17,000 troops, most of them based in the south around Abidjan. Analysts say the Ivorian military, which staged the country's first ever coup d'etat in 1999, is generally ill-equipped and inexperienced. The country has never been at war since its independence from France in 1960.

The French, who have maintained strong interests in key industries of the country, including cocoa, energy, and telecommunications, permanently maintain about 600 troops at a base next to the Abidjan airport.

Accords reached with France shortly after independence stipulate that the former colonial power will assist the Ivory Coast government defend itself in the event of war.

In the current crisis, French officials pledged to provide logistical aid to the Ivorians, but not troops.