US troops sent to Cote d'Ivoire to rescue trapped children

About 200 United States special forces troops were sent into Cote d’Ivoire this week to try and rescue American children who have been trapped in a school in the city of Bouake for almost a week.

French soldiers were also heading for the city and the two countries are believed to be coordinating plans to evacuate foreigners from the area.

Bouake, the country’s second-largest city, has been controlled by rebel forces since the start of an attempted coup last Thursday. More than 270 people have been killed in the unrest in a nation that was once considered one of the most stable in west Africa.

At least 100 US children, aged between five and 12, staff and a smaller number of Canadian and Dutch pupils are inside the school, the International Christian Academy, which mainly serves the children of missionaries from various West African countries.

“At the request of the US ambassador to the Ivory Coast, the US European Command is moving forces to assure the safety of American citizens,” said Lieutenant Commander Don Sewell, a Pentagon spokesperson. He declined to give further details of any planned operation, saying the forces were ready “for all contingencies’.

The children were not under direct attack, but firing in the grounds was “scaring the kids to death”, a local missionary, James Forlines said.

Cote d’Ivoire’s main opposition leader, Alassane Dramane Outtara, on Tuesday accused the government of trying to kill him after rebels began the insurrection.
He has taken refuge in the French embassy.

Outtara’s supporters are mainly Muslim northerners while the government of President Laurent Gbagbo is backed by southern Christians.

The borders with Guinea and Burkina Faso have been closed, as the ruling party’s newspaper accused Burkina Faso of being behind the uprising.

African leaders are due to meet in Morocco this week to try to resolve the crisis. It is uncertain whether Gbagbo will attend.

Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cacao, the raw material of cocoa and chocolate.—(c) Guardian Newspapers 2002

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