Three sentenced to life for 2004 air strike on French troops in Cote d'Ivoire

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A French court has sentenced a Belarusian mercenary and two Ivorian pilots to life in prison for their suspected involvement in an air strike on a French military camp in Ivory Coast in 2004, which killed ten people. None of the accused was in court. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Yury Sushkin, believed to have been the pilot of the Ivorian airforce jet behind the strike, and two co-pilots, Patrice Ouei and Ange Gnanduillet, were tried for murder in absentia.

The 6 November 2004 attack on French peacekeeping forces in the central region of Bouake caused a deep rift in relations between France and its former West African colony.

Two planes flew low over the site and one then fired rockets into the camp, killing nine soldiers and an American aid worker.

Forty others were injured.

The attack came during an aerial offensive by then Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in an effort to reclaim the country's north from the rebels who had controlled it since 2002.

Robust French military retaliation

France reacted furiously to the 6 November strike, wiping out Cote d'Ivoire's entire fleet of military aircraft, and dealing a severe blow to Gbagbo's bid to end the rebellion.

Relations between France and Cote d'Ivoire, which had already been fraught, quickly deteriorated.

Violent anti-France protests broke out across the nationalist south of the divided country, prompting France to airlift thousands of its nationals to safety.

Officials close to Gbagbo, who was eventually toppled by his French-backed rival, Alassane Ouattara, in 2011 after a disputed election, claimed the pilot mistook the French camp for a rebel position.