ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – French troops clashed with soldiers and angry mobs Saturday after Ivory Coast warplanes killed at least nine French peacekeepers and an American civilian in an airstrike – mayhem that threatened to draw foreign troops deeper into the West African country’s escalating civil war.

Mob violence broke out in Ivory Coast’s largest city after France retaliated for the airstrike by destroying two government warplanes at an airport outside the capital.

Thousands of pro-government youths, some armed with machetes, axes or chunks of wood, took to the streets of the country’s commercial capital, Abidjan. Crowds went door to door looking for French citizens and set fire to two French schools, sending a pall of smoke over the city.

“Everybody get your Frenchman!” young men in the mob shouted to each others. About 14,000 French nationals live in Ivory Coast – some 8,000 of whom have dual citizenship.

Later, massive explosions and heavy gunfire rocked the nation’s capital, Yamoussoukro. It was not immediately known what caused the apparent fighting in the city, where both Ivorian and French forces are based.

The U.N. Security Council demanded an immediate halt to all military action in the Ivory Coast and confirmed Saturday that U.N. peacekeepers and French forces were authorized to use “all necessary means” to carry out their mandate.

France quickly sent three Mirage fighter jets to West Africa and ordered more troops to Ivory Coast in response to the violence.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier demanded action from Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, saying he must “clearly assume his responsibilities and the role that is his to return the country to calm – especially in Abidjan.

“We must immediately return to the path of peace,” Barnier said.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Gbagbo would be “held personally responsible by the international community for (maintaining) the public order in Abidjan.”

She said French President Jacques Chirac phoned Gbagbo earlier this week to warn him against heightening the conflict.

“Visibly, he (Gbagbo) didn’t take that into account,” she said.

A French defense ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity that the United States had shown “great understanding about France’s concerns in Ivory Coast.” But he did not know whether U.S. military assistance had been sought.

The U.N. force includes thousands of West African troops, with the rest coming from an array of contributing nations, none American.

Hard-liners in Ivory Coast’s military broke a more than year-old cease-fire, launching surprise airstrikes Thursday against rebel positions and vowing to retake the northern part of the country held by rebels since the civil war began in 2002.

Government officials said Saturday’s airstrike that hit a French peacekeeper position was an accident – but the violence highlighted the nationalist fervor in the pro-government south.

Many in the south resent the French troops, suspecting them of siding with rebels, even though the peacekeepers have protected government troops in the past. France has about 4,000 troops in Ivory Coast, and a separate U.N. peacekeeping force numbers around 6,000.

Saturday’s violence began when government warplanes struck French positions at Brobo, near the northern rebel-held town of Bouake, in the afternoon, U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux said.

Eight French soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded, French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said in Paris. An American citizen also was killed in the raid, the French presidency said without elaborating.

A ninth French soldier died of his wounds, France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said before the emergency Security Council meeting. Council diplomats said the American who was killed was believed to have worked for a non-governmental organization and to have been at the French base.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ergibe Boyd in Abidjan said diplomats have not confirmed the death. She said the American likely was a missionary since there is no U.S. military or diplomatic presence in the area.

In response to the strike, French infantry destroyed Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets on the ground at an airport in Yamoussoukro, 75 miles to the south, French military spokesman Col. Henry Aussavy said. The jets were believed to be the ones that carried out the strike.

“Our forces responded in a situation of legitimate defense,” Bureau said. “Now the priority is the immediate end of combat.”

France sent three Mirage fighter jets to nearby Gabon, and Chirac said he ordered the deployment of two more military companies to Ivory Coast.

The Security Council authorized U.N. and French troops patrolling a zone dividing the rebel-held north from the government-controlled south “to prevent any hostile action” and condemned any attempt to send forces through the zone.

The council said it “intends to examine rapidly further actions, including individual measures, to be taken.”

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, the current council president, said France will draft a resolution following up on the statement.

In Abidjan, French troops fired in the air and shot tear gas to hold back massive mobs trying to overrun a French military base. French and Ivory Coast troops traded gunfire on the tarmac of the international airport, as Ivory Coast troops tried to destroy French aircraft there in retaliation.

A French soldier was slightly injured and an airplane was lightly damaged before the fighting ended, French spokesman Jacques Combarieu said.

“French go home!” loyalist mobs screamed. Thousands went house to house seeking out French civilians, Aussavy said.

At least three French families called French authorities to say loyalist militias had stormed their homes, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate word on any civilian casualties.

After nightfall, state TV ran a nonstop crawl across screens, asking for restraint: “We are asking all patriots and Ivorians to not attack, and to not attack the property, of French people or the international community.”

Presidential spokesman Desire Tagro said on state TV: “The president asks all Ivorians to remain calm … French and foreigners settled in Ivory Coast are not responsible for the Ivorian crisis. We mustn’t bring the war here.”

A senior member of Ivory Coast’s government – Sebastien Dano Djeje, Cabinet member for National Reconciliation – said the bombing of the French position in the north “was a mistake. We didn’t aim to hit them.”

But then he questioned whether the government air force was really behind the strike.

“But what proves it was Ivorian planes? We have to do an investigation,” he told The Associated Press.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, was the pride of France’s former colonial empire for prosperous decades after independence in 1960. A downturn in commodities prices and political change in the 1990s encouraged instability, and the country suffered its first-ever military coup in 1999.

Turmoil and regional, ethnic and political hatreds have reigned since. Civil war erupted in September 2002. A power-sharing deal brokered by the French ended major fighting in 2003, but otherwise failed to take hold.



Associated Press reporters Daniel Balint-Kurti in Abuja, Nigeria; Pauline Bax in Yamoussoukro; Jamey Keaten and Samantha Bordes in Paris; and Associated Press photographer Schalk van Zuydam in Yamoussoukro contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-06-04 1759EST



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