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U.S. students leaving Ivory Coast Thursday

Students from the International Christian Academy wave after they were evacuated Wednesday.
Students from the International Christian Academy wave after they were evacuated Wednesday.

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French troops evacuate about 200 students and staff from a missionary school caught in the crossfire of a coup in the Ivory Coast (September 25)
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Interactive: Ivory Coast facts 
  • Established in 1962
  • Operated by Conservative Baptist International to provide what it calls "a United States standard education for the children of missionaries in West Africa."
  • About 200 students from 15 countries
  • Campus includes classroom buildings, dormitories, chapel, gym, library, dining hall and administrative building.
  • BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- About 200 students and staff evacuated from a Christian school in the crossfire of a rebel uprising will be flown out of the Ivory Coast Thursday, according to a spokesman for the U.S. missionary group affiliated with the school.

    The students and staff members from the International Christian Academy, escorted by French troops, arrived late Wednesday in the country's capital, Yamoussoukro, where U.S. Embassy officials had set up a reception center for them. Most of the evacuees were Americans.

    "They are all in good spirits," said Eddie Payne, a spokesman for Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions, a Nashville, Tennessee-based missionary group affiliated with the school. "They were very pleased to be on their way from Bouake."

    Payne said the students would stay the night in Yamoussoukro. They will be flown to neighboring Ghana on U.S. military aircraft Thursday morning and then on to a final destination to be determined.

    Two U.S. C-130s were flown from neighboring Ghana to Yamoussoukro earlier in the day.

    Waving American flags, about 200 students and staff members left the school in a convoy of cars, trucks and mini-buses and traveled to Yamoussoukro.

    "We're glad the French came," said one man, driving an SUV in the evacuation convoy while clutching the Stars and Stripes.

    As the students and staff prepared to leave, Michele Cousineau, an academy official, said, "I can tell you we have loaded up in 17 vehicles and we are getting ready for departure in three minutes."

    He said that gunfire, which had been heavy on Tuesday, had stopped after the French troops arrived.

    A convoy of French soldiers head toward rebel-held Bouake, Ivory Coast.
    A convoy of French soldiers head toward rebel-held Bouake, Ivory Coast.

    In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a reception center had been set up in Yamoussoukro to help the students and staff when they arrive. The center is staffed by employees of the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's administrative center.

    U.S. troops landed at Yamoussoukro Wednesday morning from neighboring Ghana, ready to assist the relocated children and staff.

    Cmdr. James Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command in Germany said the U.S. forces were deployed to Ghana Tuesday "to be in a position to provide for the safety for American citizens" in the Ivory Coast.

    The school was threatened by a military insurgency that began in the West African nation last Thursday. Rebels and government troops exchanged heavy gunfire and mortar shelling around the school.

    French troops secured the school -- which was not believed to be a target of the fighting -- early Wednesday. They had secured an airport about 40 miles from the school and moved in on a road near the campus.

    Cousineau said no one at the school had been hurt.

    "We've been confined to this campus. We've not been able to leave. We have come under crossfire on two occasions, troops on both sides running up and down in front of our campus," he said. "It's been quite a frightening time, but no one has been injured. The morale of the students are pretty good, and we're very happy right now what is happening."

    At a news conference in Warsaw, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the situation in the Ivory Coast was "not a serious problem" and U.S. citizens in the West African country are not being immediately threatened by an ongoing military revolt.

    "The situation is evolving and we do have some troops in the vicinity," Rumsfeld told reporters. "At the moment, things are at an acceptable level. Some real estate has changed hands, but at the moment we see no threat to Americans."

    The school serves the children of missionaries in West Africa. There were 160 schoolchildren -- including 101 Americans ages 6 to 18 -- on the campus along with 39 other people -- staff and their children, some of whom are infants.

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