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Ivory Coast Needs Weapons to Defend Nation from Rebels, Ambassador Says - 2002-09-30

Ivory Coast's ambassador to the United Nations says Ivorian forces need weapons to defend the West African nation from rebel forces. The ambassador made his comments after African leaders pledged to launch negotiations to end a 12-day crisis.

Ivorian Ambassador Djessan Philippe Djangone-Bi says Ivory Coast is upgrading its arsenal to combat heavily armed rebels. The fighting has killed more than 300 people. "The ambassador would not say which country has provided the weapons to Ivory Coast. He says France is giving logistical help, but Ivorians want to fight the rebels on their own. But for manpower, people are ready to fight and die for their country. So we can, if we have all the necessary equipment, we can repel the rebels alone without any help from outside," he said.

On Sunday, members of the Economic Community of West African States launched an effort to mediate a peaceful solution between the rebels and the Ivorian government. If mediation fails, the African organization is expected to send a multinational peacekeeping force of about 4,000 troops to Ivory Coast.

Ambassador Djangone-Bi says the rebels are armed young men originally from Burkina Faso, Sierra Leon, and Liberia.

Ivory Coast is the top producer of cocoa in the world. Although cocoa prices have increased since the rebellion began, Ambassador Djangone-Bi says that the crisis will have little effect on the production of cocoa.

"Actually the zone in concern here has nothing to do with the cocoa belt, nothing to do with the cocoa belt. The cocoa area is free. The port in the southern area, two main ports, Abidjan and San Padre are free. There is no problem there," the ambassador said. Although the Ivorian military put down the rebellion in the city of Abidjan soon after the September 19 rebellion began, rebel troops continue to hold territory in the north and center of Ivory Coast, including the city of Bouake. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes.

French and American citizens were evacuated from Ivory Coast last week.