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French Troops Enforce Ivory Coast Cease-Fire - 2002-10-20

French troops in Ivory Coast are taking up positions in the country's rebel zones in order to enforce a cease-fire agreement. The accord aims to end a four-week conflict that has killed hundreds.

French officers met with insurgent leaders in the rebel-held city of Bouake to lay the groundwork for deploying French cease-fire monitors in the rebel zone.

Under the terms of the cease-fire agreement signed by rebels and the government last Thursday, a force of West African troops will eventually take over the buffer positions.

France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, already has more than 1,000 troops in the country. Military sources said more are due to arrive soon.

French cease-fire monitors will set up observation posts and will serve as contacts between rebel forces and the government as both sides begin negotiations for a comprehensive peace accord.

While the French say their mandate does not include engaging in combat, commanders say their forces will fire back if they are attacked.

No fighting has been reported in the rebel zones since the cease-fire took effect early Friday.

But diplomats said the situation in Ivory Coast remained fluid as rebel leaders work to convince their forces to lay down their weapons while peace negotiations get under way.

Flights out of the West African country were full as the United Nations and western countries, including the United States, called on their employees and families to leave.

The insurrection in Ivory Coast began September 19, when renegade soldiers launched coordinated attacks on Abidjan in the south, Bouake in the center, and Korhogo in the north. A large number of towns in the center and north remain under rebel control.

The mutinous soldiers launched the attacks in anger over the government's plans to demobilize about 700 soldiers. The rebels have since demanded the ouster of President Laurent Gbagbo.