"That Arms Be Silenced" in the Ivory Coast, Says Pope

Violence Broke Out After Attack on French Soldiers

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II called for the silencing of arms in the Ivory Coast amid the tension that followed the killing of nine French soldiers on Saturday.

After praying the Angelus on Sunday the Holy Father expressed his «concern over the grave news coming from the Ivory Coast, where violence has just made new victims.»

«That arms be silenced! That peace agreements be respected! That the way of dialogue be resumed!» the Pope implored, before commending the situation to Mary, «Queen of Peace.»

The spark that unleashed the violence was the Ivorian army’s air attack on French troops that are part of the peace-keeping forces.

In response to the bombing, French President Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of the «military means» used in violation of the cease-fire, an operation carried out at dawn on Sunday, which brought down two Sujoi combat planes of the Ivorian army.

Mamadou Coulibaly, president of the Ivorian National Assembly, sent harsh warnings to Paris, after accusing the French of killing more than 30 people, which the French authorities denied.

«What has happened marks a point of rupture. Vietnam will seem like nothing compared to what we are going to see here,» Coulibaly warned.

The U.N. Security Council approved a statement on Saturday night condemning the attack of the government forces of Ivory Coast on French troops and backed the latter’s action and that of the blue helmets in the African country.

In addition, Paris intends to propose to the council the adoption «of new measures,» such as an arms embargo against the Ivory Coast, which until 1960 was in the French colonial orbit.

The fall in the price of raw materials in the 80s and the 1999 coup d’etat plunged the country in a profound crisis, which seems to have no end.

The situation has worsened in recent months by the confrontation between Laurent Gbagbo’s government and rebel groups loyal to General Robert Guei, who participated in the coup. The result so far is one million displaced people and a generalized health crisis throughout the country.

A cease-fire was declared in May 2003, and in June the rebels presented a declaration that put an end to the war after the president approved an amnesty for the guerrillas occupying the north of the country.

However, the peace process was paralyzed in September when the rebels announced their withdrawal from the government of National Reconciliation and the postponement of their disarmament program.

Catholics compose 16.5% of the more than 17 million Ivorians. Muslims constitute 35-40% of the population, and 25-40% follow indigenous religions. There is also a significant percentage of Christians of other denominations.

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