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French Vow to Retaliate if Attacked in Ivory Coast

Associated Press, Washington Post, Sunday 20 October 2002; Page A30

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Oct. 19—French forces monitoring Ivory Coast’s cease-fire, which halted four weeks of fighting between government and rebel forces, vowed today to retaliate if attacked.

With the truce in its second day, French forces said that by Sunday they hoped to have rules agreed to by both sides for observing the cease-fire.

French troops will deploy patrols, establish observation posts and, in some areas, checkpoints, as well as agreed contact points between government and rebel forces, said Col. Christian Baptiste, a French military spokesman in Paris. French troops also plan to tell both sides which activities they would consider hostile.

If the situation starts to worsen. . .and our forces face aggression, we will strike back strongly—indeed, very strongly, he said in a telephone interview, saying the situation in Ivory Coast remained tense.

Baptiste said France has considerably more than the 1,000 troops it sent to its former colony to protect and evacuate foreign nationals and provide logistical support to government forces.

Under the cease-fire accord, the rebels and government troops are to stay in position—ready to fight should negotiations fail. French forces said they were unaware of any fighting since the cease-fire took effect Thursday.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, one of the West African mediators who helped broker the truce agreement, described the situation as totally calm.

In the rebel-held central city of Bouake, insurgents covered their weapons with tarpaulins, showing a very strong will to keep the peace, he said. In Daloa, a western city rebels and government forces battled over early this week, residents reported no fighting.

Ivorians, frightened and displaced by the conflict and the ethnic violence it unleashed, questioned whether peace could last. Hundreds died and tens of thousands fled their homes in the fighting that erupted Sept. 19 with a bloody coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo.