Ivory Coast warplanes bomb northern town held by rebels
BOUAKE, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast warplanes bombed the largest city of the rebel-held north in wave after wave of attacks Thursday, breaking a more than year-old cease-fire in the civil war that split West Africa’s one-time economic powerhouse.
The government’s Russian-made Sukhoi jets attacked at dawn and swept back in for at least three more raids by nightfall, targeting rebel military and civilian headquarters and television in surprise attacks that left civilians cowering in their homes.
There was no official word on casualties but rebels said 25 civilians were injured. The relief group Medecins sans Frontieres, said the raids injured 39 people, 14 of them civilians. The organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it believed there also had been deaths, but had no details.
“We are going to reconquer our territory and reunify Ivory Coast,” Col. Philippe Mangou, a government military chief for operations, told The Associated Press by telephone.
Rebel leader Guillaume Soro, reached after the first attack, called the government offensive a “unilateral … flagrant violation” of Ivory Coast’s peace deals and complained about what he called the inaction of the peacekeepers. The rebel chief headed back to Bouake from nearby Togo, where he had gone for regional consultations on the deteriorating situation in his home country.
“We’ve just been bombed. The war has started again,” rebel military commander Cherif Ousmane told the AP, after the first raid jolted residents awake.
The United States condemned the renewed violence, saying that peace violators would face consequences.
“We are deeply disturbed that so far, political leaders on all sides have failed to put the welfare of the people … above narrow political interests,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. “Those parties that continue to undermine the peace process and seek to resume the war will be held accountable.”
The United Nations called the attacks a major violation of the cease-fire and suspended all humanitarian work in Ivory Coast, where it has been trying to promote peace. About 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers and 4,000 French troops patrol the lines that divide the nation in two. The U.N. Security Council said the raids were “grave” and “worrying,” after Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave the members a rare briefing on the violence.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been split since a September 2002 coup attempt launched the country into civil war. A 2003 peace deal, brokered under pressure from former colonial ruler France and others, ended major fighting. But a power-sharing deal failed to take hold, and distrust and ethnic, regional and political hatreds continue to run strong.