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Rebels Attack French Troops in Ivory Coast

Rebels in Ivory Coast have attacked French peacekeepers near a key western town. There is no information yet about casualties from the fighting, which comes just a day after the rebel group in the area pledged to attend new peace talks in Paris. VOA's Challiss McDonough reports from Abidjan.

A French military spokesman said the troops were attacked on two fronts near the key western town of Duekoue. He described the clashes as quite serious.

The spokesman said about 40 rebel fighters, traveling on foot, fired mortars at a French position on a road north of Duekoue. He said about 30 rebels attacked a different French patrol on a road northeast of the town.

There is a large French military presence in Duekoue, and French troops have clashed with rebels nearby at least four other times in recent weeks. After the last two incidents, rebel leaders essentially apologized, blaming the attacks on misunderstandings.

France has sent about 2,500 soldiers to its former colony to protect foreigners and enforce a tattered cease-fire.

Duekoue is located at a strategic crossroads between the rebel-held city of Man and the two main ports of San Pedro and Abidjan.

The clashes came just a day after the main western rebel group said it is ready to attend peace talks in Paris, scheduled to begin January 15.

The rebel group controlling most of northern and central Ivory Coast has agreed to honor a cease-fire signed in October. But the two western factions have never signed any cease-fire, and they have not previously negotiated with the government.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo recently announced he would stop hostilities on all fronts, including in the west. He spoke after meeting with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who came to Ivory Coast for talks with both sides after an upsurge in fighting last week.