(REUTERS) French troops traded fire with gunmen who attacked them in northern Ivory Coast on Tuesday, the French army said – the latest challenge to peacekeepers shoring up a peace deal in the divided West African country.
Some of the group of about 15 unidentified attackers were wounded when the French responded after their armoured vehicles came under machinegun fire about 50km south of the city of Korhogo, in the rebel-held north.
French army spokesperson Jacques Combarieu said no troops had been killed or wounded in the incident, which he said was the first time French soldiers had come under fire in Ivory Coast since June. “There was a confrontation between uncontrolled elements and a French patrol,” he said. “The attackers’ pick-up truck was destroyed and the attackers fled.”
French and UN forces are policing a ceasefire line between government and rebel forces in the world’s top cocoa grower, divided in two since a civil war blew up out of a failed coup against President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002.
The 4 000 French troops have been accused by people in both the government-held south and rebel-held north of supporting the other side.
France, the former colonial power, denies any bias.
Protesters supporting Gbagbo have repeatedly staged violent demonstrations against the presence of French troops, sometimes hurling rocks and petrol bombs at soldiers guarding their base in the commercial capital Abidjan.
In the rebel-held town of Bouake, French and UN peacekeepers fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators on Oct. 11, days before the rebels were due to start disarming under a long-delayed peace process.
Last June, French soldiers exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen in a part of the country controlled by the government.
A French soldier was shot dead in a separate incident the same month by a soldier from the Ivorian army for unknown reasons during a joint patrol.