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Two French peacekeepers killed by drunken rebels

[Cote d'lvoire] French armoured personnel carrier stationed at Yamoussoukro airport in October.
French troops in Cote d'Ivoire (All Africa.com)

Two French soldiers and an Ivorian rebel fighter were killed in an exchange of fire in central Cote d'Ivoire, military spokesmen said on Tuesday.

General Pierre Michel Joana, commander of 4,000 French peacekeeping troops in this West African country, said the incident took place on Monday near Sakassou, 300 km north of the commercial capital Abidjan. The town lies in the buffer zone between Ivorian government forces which occupy the South of Cote d'Ivoire and the rebel forces which occupy the north.

Joana said a French army patrol in a boat on Lake Kossou entered into an argument with several drunk rebel fighters in a pickup truck onshore. The rebels ended up opening fire on the French soldiers, killing two and wounding another, he told reporters.

A spokesman for the rebel Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI) told IRIN that one rebel fighter was killed as the French soldiers returned fire.

This is the first time French troops have suffered fatalities in Cote d'Ivoire since they moved in to try and keep rebel and government forces apart in September last year, days after the country erupted into civil war.

Fighting petered out in April, but the French troops and a smaller force of 1,300 West African peacekeepers have been deployed since then along the 700 km front line to keep the two sides apart.

Joana described the shooting as "a very serious incident," which would lead the French force to take additional precautionary measures. He said it highlighted the lack of discipline among rebel forces and their weak command structure.

However, Joana stressed that the incident would not slow down the process of demobilisation and disarmament which is supposed to see the rebels lay down their arms under the terms of a peace agreement signed in January.

The disarmament process was due to have begun in early August. However, it has been delayed by continuing deep distrust between President Laurent Gbagbo and the MPCI.

Last Saturday French police arrested several people in Paris on charges of planning to destabilise Cote d'Ivoire with the involvement of mercenaries. An Ivorian police source said those detained included Master Sargent Ibrahim Coulibaly, a key figure in the 1999 coup that brought to power a short-lived military government of General Robert Guei.

Coulibaly has been living in exile in Burkina Faso for the past three years. He was suspected by the government of involvement in a second coup attempt on September 19 last year that led to the outbreak of civil war.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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