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Ivory Coast: Foreign Embassies Evacuating Citizens - 2002-10-17

Foreign embassies in Ivory Coast are advising their nationals to evacuate the West African country as a rebel crisis continues. The order follows the rebels' signing of a cease-fire agreement.

Five nations of the European Union - Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain - have called for their citizens to leave Ivory Coast.

The order stood, even as rebels signed a cease-fire in what West African mediators hoped would be a first step toward ending the four-week-old conflict, which has killed hundreds.

In remarks before the signing, mediator Mohammed Chambas said the agreement would seek to stop hostilities while the government and rebels sit down to discuss a comprehensive peace accord. "I hope that all sides can accept the status quo while we seek peace," said Mr. Chambas. "We hope that the rebels will not try to expand the territory that they control now. We hope on the other hand that the government will not intensify its efforts to push the rebels [back]. Let us hold the status quo and let us seek to start the dialogue and negotiations."

A first attempt at a cease-fire collapsed more than a week ago when the government of President Laurent Gbagbo refused to sign the accord at the last minute, because it did not commit the rebels to disarm. Mr. Chambas said he had indications the government would sign the agreement this time.

Despite the signing of the cease-fire agreement by rebels, Western diplomats said uncertainty in the country remained high. Diplomats said there remained troubling signs of divisions within the armed forces and questions of whether both sides would adhere to the cease-fire agreement.

The Western diplomats said non-essential personnel and their families should depart.

The United States has in recent weeks been recommending that Americans leave Ivory Coast. Hundreds have done so already.

France, which maintains strong economic interests in its former colony, is not calling for its citizens to leave. During the past few weeks, the French have more than doubled their troop presence in Ivory Coast to about 1,000. The mandate of the French forces is to protect the more than 20,000 French nationals who live in the country.

Gunfire broke out in the main city, Abidjan, late Wednesday between members of the paramilitary police force and riot police in a suburb.