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Ivory Coast: Thousands Enlist to Help Army Fight Rebels - 2002-12-12

Thousands of men in Ivory Coast have turned out to enlist in the army amid an escalation in the country's rebellion.

As the men lined up at Abidjan's football stadium and at other facilities, military officials struggled to keep up with the demand for uniforms and other supplies.

Scuffles broke out as police tried to control the crowds of young men.

The would-be recruits were responding to calls by the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. He invited all men between the ages of 20 and 26 to join the army to help smash a near three-month rebellion that has left all but the south of the country in the hands of insurgents.

Rebels on Wednesday announced they were launching their own recruitment drive in territories they control.

The rebel conflict has grown as new factions of rebels emerged in the west of the country last month. Peace negotiations, under way in Togo between the Ivory Coast government and rebels since the end of October, have been stalled.

France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, on Wednesday announced it will send additional troops to the more than 1,000 already on the ground in the west African country. French officials on Thursday said the new troops would arrive within 72 hours.

Rebels with the main insurgent group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, on Thursday blasted France's decision to deploy more troops and cautioned the French to remain neutral.

Insurgents have in the past expressed anger against French forces, saying they are the only reason why rebel forces have not been able to move farther south to Abidjan.

The rebels said they would be taking time out from the talks in Togo on Thursday to consult with their rank-and-file at their base in central Ivory Coast.