IVORY COAST: Soldiers commandeer TV station

A group of Ivory Coast army officers interrupted state TV on Sunday and in a live broadcast called for the French army to quit a ceasefire line

Taipei Times
Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A group of Ivory Coast army officers interrupted state TV on Sunday and in a live broadcast called for the French army to quit a ceasefire line so they could fight rebels holding the north of the country.

They spoke out a day after French soldiers fired warning shots to disperse protesters marching with some Ivorian soldiers towards the rebel-held stronghold of Bouake in the center of the war-divided western African nation.

State TV said six people were wounded and an armored vehicle was destroyed. The French army confirmed firing warning shots and said a vehicle appeared to have been damaged.

"We are telling the whites to leave the front line ... we have the means to get rid of [the rebels] ... in 48 hours we will liberate the country," said an unnamed soldier sitting at a table in a red beret, surrounded by soldiers in fatigues.

"Your army is with you. This is not a coup d'etat. This is not a rebellion," he said.

The incident on Saturday underlined the tensions bubbling in the world's top cocoa grower, still divided between a rebel-held north and government-held south despite the formal end to a civil war which erupted after a failed rebel uprising last year.

Some 4,000 French troops and 1,300 western African soldiers are monitoring a truce and a no-weapons zone across the country. The war was declared to be over in July but the peace process has been hobbled by mutual distrust.

In Paris, military spokesman Colonel Christian Baptiste said the demands of the officers were "irresponsible and inopportune."

"This little tension and the appearance on television are nothing but regrettable events, we think," he said.

"Right now, this seems to be an isolated incident," he said.

The soldiers who forced their way into the TV building in Abidjan to make their statement pledged their loyalty to President Laurent Gbagbo. They called on army chief of staff General Mathias Doue and top generals to resign.

Kadet Bertin, former defense minister and an adviser to President Laurent Gbagbo, said on Sunday that it was up to the president to decide whether to keep Doue as chief of staff. He said Doue "was not unanimously supported."

The French army said they stopped Saturday's protest at the request of the Ivorian authorities, and state TV said Doue gave the orders to stop the march.

Witnesses in Abidjan said the renegade fighters arrived at the TV station in cars and left quickly after making the declaration. It was not clear how big a following the group has within the army in general.

TV programs resumed after the declaration.

Gbagbo made a rare sortie towards the front line on Sunday and was shown on state TV talking to troops in Alangouassou, a town to the east of rebel-held Bouake.

According to reports, Gbagbo was meeting his security and defense advisers in Abidjan on Sunday evening.

Rumors of attacks and a resumption of hostilities regularly shake the country. The rebels have not disarmed and many Gbagbo loyalists want them driven out.