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30 Sep 2003 16:53
Members of Côte d’Ivoire’s rebel forces on Tuesday exchanged gunfire in Bouake, the rebels’ stronghold in the centre of the divided West African country, an AFP journalist reported.
Shooting erupted in a fire station near the centre of Bouake, far from French peacekeepers who have stepped up patrols in the city since a botched bank robbery by renegade rebel soldiers killed 23 over the weekend.
A spokesperson for the New Forces, the name given to rebel movements after they joined a unity government as part of the country’s peace process, said those involved in the robbery on Saturday were ex-rebels.
“In addition to civilians, there were armed people who are no longer active within the new forces who have been arrested,” Antoine Beugre said.
According to weekend reports, security personnel of the New Forces tried to arrest the robbers at the West African Central Bank, where civilians had also joined in the melee, leading to a shootout.
The three-day altercation killed 23 and wounded at least 37, according to the New Forces’ health services.
About 300 French soldiers, part of a 3 800-strong force deployed in the former French colony, have since secured the area around the bank.
The New Forces link three rebel groups that fought President Laurent Gbagbo’s troops in the civil war that began after an abortive uprising on September 19 last year.
Despite a peace pact signed last January and the formation of a power-sharing transition government, the country—once renowned for its political stability and economically strong from its cocoa exports—remains deeply divided and the government barely operational.—Sapa-AFP
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