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31st March, 2005

BRITISH EMBASSY IN ABIDJAN SUSPENDS OPERATIONS WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT

Thursday 17:00

The British Embassy in the Ivory Coast will suspend operations from tomorrow (01 April) due to the deteriorating security situation.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Advice has been changed to advise British Nationals to leave the Ivory Coast immediately and makes clear that there will be no repeat of the November 2004 evacuation. Consular and visa services will be provided from Accra.

Minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, said: "This decision is mainly due to the uncertain security situation and our inability to protect staff or British Nationals should there be another outbreak of violence. But it also reflects the lack of progress in the peace process. Until all parties genuinely commit to finding a political solution, there is little point in us remaining; the risk is just too high".

Notes for editors

1. There are some 146 British Nationals and others for whom we have consular responsibility registered in Abidjan.

2. Since a failed coup attempt in 2002, Ivory Coast has been divided by a UN-held 'Zone of Confidence'. The north of the country is in the hands of the rebels and the south remains under government control. A UN peacekeeping force (UNOCI) of 6,000 is deployed throughout the country, and is supported by 4,000 French troops.

3. Between 6 and 8 November 2004, after the Government breached the ceasefire and killed 9 French peacekeepers, there were clashes between French and Government troops and pro-government militias in Abidjan, at the French military base and in various locations throughout the city. Militia groups also attacked foreign businesses and residences. French and other governments assisted around 8,000 foreign nationals to leave. The British Embassy was evacuated; and UK forces assisted over 120 British and other nationals to leave.

4. The summery of the new travel advice reads:

* Operations at the British Embassy in Abidjan will be suspended as of 1 April 2005.

* We strongly advise all British Nationals to leave Ivory Coast.

* If against our advice you decide to remain, you should take strong security precautions.

* We will be unable to mount an evacuation as we did in November 2004. French (and other international) forces may not be able to mount a rescue operation as happened then

5. Travel advice is kept under constant review and based of the latest information and assessment of the situation in Ivory Coast.

6. Full travel advice can be found on FCO website, http://www.fco.gov.uk/travel)

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