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Fresh Fighting in Ivory Coast Town Troubles Peace Process - 2002-12-18


New fighting has erupted around a key town in western Ivory Coast. The renewed hostilities came as several West African leaders failed to show up for a special summit in Senegal aimed at finding a solution to the crisis.

Heavy fighting broke out late Tuesday around the western town of Man, and reports from the area say it continued throughout the day Wednesday.

Man is a key coffee-growing center near the border with Liberia. It was overrun late last month by one of the new rebel factions, the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West. Government troops only recently re-gained control of the town.

A government spokesman denied one report that the town had fallen back into rebel hands. Man appears to still be under government control, but reports indicate it is largely surrounded by rebel forces.

Meanwhile, France has announced it is sending another 300 paratroopers to enforce the tattered cease-fire in its former colony. A transport ship left France Wednesday and is scheduled to dock in Abidjan by the end of next week, carrying the 300 French soldiers, as well as helicopters and light armored vehicles.

Roughly 1,500 French soldiers are already deployed in Ivory Coast, mainly in the north and west. French officials have said they intend to increase the total troop strength to 2,500. They have authorized their soldiers to shoot anyone who violates the cease-fire.

The latest developments in Ivory Coast came as West African leaders from the regional group ECOWAS were supposed to be meeting in Senegal in a bid to find a political solution to the conflict that threatens the stability of the entire region. But in the end, only four heads of state showed up, including the host, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema chose to stay at home, sending his prime minister and defense minister in his place. Mr. Eyadema has been brokering peace talks on behalf of ECOWAS since October.

But the president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, did go to the summit. So did his counterpart Blaise Compore of Burkina Faso, a country Mr. Gbagbo has accused of backing at least one of the rebel movements.