Things Get Nasty in Ivory Coast

I was going to make a snide comment about the hypocritical French attacking a tiny, helpless nation, but the situation is too ugly to make sarcasm appropriate:

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – France rolled out overwhelming military force Sunday to put down an explosion of anti-French violence in its former West African colony, deploying troops, armored vehicles, and helicopter gunships against machete-waving mobs that hunted house-to-house for foreigners.

In the second of two stunning days that stood to alter French-Ivory Coast relations — and perhaps Ivory Coast itself — French forces seized strategic control of the largest city, commandeering airports and posting gunboats under bridges in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

French military helicopters swept in to rescue a dozen trapped expatriates from the rooftop of a once-luxury hotel, flying them and their luggage to safety.

The chaos erupted Saturday when Ivory Coast warplanes launched a surprise airstrike that killed nine French peacekeepers and a civilian American aid worker. The government later called the bombing a mistake.

France hit back within hours, wiping out Ivory Coast’s newly built-up air force — two Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters and at least three helicopter gunships — on the ground.

The slain French troops were among 4,000 French peacekeepers and 6,000 U.N. troops in Ivory Coast, serving as a buffer between the rebel north and loyalist south since civil war broke out in September 2002.

The airstrike on the peacekeepers came after government forces last week broke a cease-fire in place for more than year and launched aerial bomb attacks on rebel positions.

The peacekeepers are trying to hold together a nation whose stability is vital in a region where several nations are only just recovering from devastating civil wars in the 1990s. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer and until the late 1990s stood as West Africa’s most prosperous and peaceful nation.

What I want to know is what purpose the U.N. troops are serving. Now that real shooting has broken out, will they even stick around?

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