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Ivory Coast Accuses Liberia of Sending Troops to Help Rebels - 2003-01-23


Ivory Coast's army is accusing neighboring Liberia of sending troops across the border to help Ivorian rebels. The accusation came as fighting continued Thursday in western Ivory Coast near the Liberian border.

In the course of Ivory Coast's four-month-old rebel war, Ivorian officials have repeatedly said Liberian mercenaries have been assisting rebels. Thursday, however, marked the first time that Ivorian officials have accused the Liberian government of being involved in the insurrection.

The accusation was made by Ivorian army spokesman Jules Yao-Yao in an address broadcast Thursday over Ivorian state media. Mr. Yao-Yao said the participation of Liberian regular forces on the side of the rebels was now a certainty.

Liberian officials, who have repeatedly denied any involvement in the Ivorian conflict, were not immediately available for comment.

Fighting continued Thursday around the western town of Toulepleu, where, French army officers said, rebels had been attacking government targets since Wednesday.

Meanwhile, President Laurent Gbagbo traveled on Thursday to France, where mediators are working to settle the thorniest issues remaining between the government and rebels.

Thousands of government supporters gathered at the Abidjan airport to see the president off. Robert Sayi, 32, was among those cheering as the Ivorian leader's motorcade arrived at the airport.

Mr. Sayi said he is happy to see the president go to France, because be believes Mr. Gbagbo will bring peace with him when he returns.

The fighting in Ivory Coast began four months ago. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed, and thousands displaced.

Other countries in West Africa, along with France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, have been eager to broker an end to the conflict. For months, diplomats have warned the fighting could spread to other nations in the region.