Children caught in crossfire in Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast troops and mutineers were battling on Tuesday for control of the rebel-held central city of Bouake, where machine-gun bullets flew within meters of terrified foreign schoolchildren.
The army troops were firing from the eastern suburbs of Bouake in a bid to recapture the city, still in the hands of mutinous soldiers five days after a failed coup attempt, said military sources.
On state radio, Colonel Philippe Mangou, speaking for the defence ministry, declared on Monday morning: “I would like to announce to the population that our forces have been in Bouake since yesterday.”
“Lots of the children are frightened,” said an administrator of the International Christian Academy, Michel Cousineau.
Around 160 children from the United States and a dozen from Canada and the Netherlands board at the school, originally set up for the children of foreign missionaries.
Speaking at around 9am (0900 GMT), Cousineau said: “Right now there are three military trucks with 60 foot-soldiers outside. They are sweeping the area and firing shots from time to time. Gunfire is going on in the distance, and it’s heavy at times?.
James Forlines, director of the Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions said from Nashville, Tennessee, earlier: “There was a tremendous amount of fire going over (the school),” coming from the east and aimed at targets near a military post two kilometres west of the academy.
He said the school had reported then: “Fifty-calibre machine-gun bullets are going eight to 10 feet over our heads”.
Forlines said the attack took place at around 4am, but Cousineau said the heaviest firing was heard around 6:30 pm on Monday.
None of the children had been wounded, Cousineau said.
Rebel soldiers seized Bouake and Korhogo in the north on Thursday last week as the army quashed an uprising in Abidjan, the main city on the coast, at the cost of 270 dead and 300 wounded, according to a government tally.
French troops were deployed at Yamoussoukro, 100 kilometres south of Bouake, to evacuate foreigners—including the children.
The French soldiers, bivouacked at Yamoussoukro airport, set up roadblocks on Tuesday.
About 1 000 foreigners, including around 600 French nationals, live in Bouake, which is Ivory Coast’s second city.