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Due to escalating unrest and political instability in the wake of the Ivory Coast's contested presidential election, the LDS Church is pulling its non-African missionaries out of the small West African nation and relocating them in Benin and Togo, which are all part of the same LDS mission.

The move is considered a "precaution," said LDS spokesman Scott Trotter.

Matt Martinich, an LDS scholar in Colorado who is researching Mormonism's international growth, said the missionaries who have been moved "will serve the remainder of their missions [in those adjoining nations] unless conditions improve" in the Ivory Coast.

The evacuation may be good news for Benin and Togo, Martinich said in an e-mail, because it "will likely improve prospects for a new mission due to limited travel and missionary resources in this region, which has been highly receptive."

Currently, the Ivory Coast (known officially as Côte d'Ivoire) has 13,245 LDS Church members, four stakes and 32 congregations, according to the church's almanac.

The loss of non-African missionaries may actually increase The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' presence and stability in the Ivory Coast, Martinich said, because requiring "only native members to serve full-time missions often greatly strengthens the LDS Church and leads to long-term, self-sustaining church growth, as seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

The Utah-based church is extremely cautious when it comes to the safety of its young missionary force.

The church closed its Aba, Nigeria, temple in June 2009 after a temple worker reported seeing four gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles shoot holes in the temple's guardhouse.

"The safety of our temple visitors and workers is always our first concern," Trotter told The Salt Lake Tribune at the time. "Incidents of violence in recent months in the area where the temple is situated are not necessarily related to the temple, but could put church members at risk."

The Nigerian temple is now open, Trotter said Tuesday, "on a limited basis, as necessary, to meet the needs of local members."