Government warplanes bombed the largest city in Côte d’Ivoire’s rebel-held north on Thursday in what a government military commander said was the launch of a new offensive to reunite the war-divided nation.
The raid threatened to restart Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war, ended by a 2003 peace deal after nine months of fighting.
“We are going to reconquer our territory, and reunify Côte d’Ivoire,” Colonel Phillipe Mangou, a government military chief for operations, said by telephone.
“We’ve just been bombed. The war has started again,” rebel military commander Cherif Ousmane said in the rebel stronghold of Boauke.
Two Russian-made Sukhoi jets launched the raid at about sunrise, targeting a rebel military camp within Bouake.
An AP reporter in Bouake saw the aircraft fly in low over the town. A boom followed, and a plume of black smoke rose. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The bombardment woke residents. Rebels deployed in force across the city after the bombing. Insurgents, faces covered by hoods, erected checkpoints. Frightened residents stayed inside, with shops closed.
The government’s military spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Jules Yao Yao, refused to comment, saying the government will issue a statement later.
A French military spokesperson, Colonel Henry Aussavy, confirmed the bombing, saying the target was a rebel military battalion headquarters within Bouake.
“It seems to be a limited action,” Aussavy said, about three hours after the bombing.
Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s top cocoa producer and a former economic powerhouse of West Africa, has been divided into the rebel-held north and government-held south since a September 2002 coup attempt launched months of civil war.
A 2003 peace deal, brokered under pressure from former colonial ruler France and others, ended major fighting.
Last week, rebel political leader Guillaume Soro accused the government of massing troops near rebel positions in the west and warned the country’s long-stagnant war could resume soon.
“The war is not over, it will start again soon,” Soro told a news conference in Bouake on October 28.
Soro also imposed a 9pm to 6am curfew in the rebel-held north and called on eight rebel ministers in Abidjan to leave their posts and head to Bouake. — Sapa-AP
Associated Press reporter Nafi Diouf in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report