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28 Mar 2011 12:15
Fighters backing internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara on Monday attacked the strategic western Côte d’Ivoire town of Duekoue, representatives from the rival camps said.
The operation was part of a push by Ouattara forces to wrest western towns from the control of fighters for Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to hand over the presidency, a military spokesperson for Outtara’s side said.
“We have engaged hostilities to secure the Great West, in particular Duekoue and Guiglo, where militia [supporting Gbagbo] are sowing terror,” the Republican Forces spokesperson, Seydou Ouattara, told Agence France-Presse.
The Republican Forces are a grouping of the New Forces ex-rebel movement, which has controlled the northern part of the country since a failed 2002 coup, with the south under Gbabo’s control.
“We have surrounded Duekoue and it is possible that the two towns, Duekoue and Guiglo, will fall today [Monday],” the spokesperson added.
Pro-Ouattara forces have in recent weeks seized five towns in western Côte d’Ivoire from troops loyal to Gbagbo, who claims to still be president although the election commission said he lost November 28 polls.
A soldier from Gbagbo’s Defence and Security Forces confirmed: “Our positions have been attacked by the rebels.”
Duekoue is an important crossroads, leading west to Liberia, north to Guinea, east to the political capital, Yamoussoukro, and south to San Pedro—the world’s largest cocoa exporting port.
“We have been hearing shooting of heavy weapons in several parts of Duekoue since very early this morning. There is heavy fighting but we don’t know what it is about,” said a resident reached by phone from Abidjan.
“There are mortars since 4am.
They have been firing until now.
Conflict between the two camps is growing four months after an election meant to reunite the country after years of political turmoil, raising fears the political stand-off is pushing the country into full-blown civil war.
At least 460 people have been killed in post-election violence, which has also sent up to one million fleeing their homes as rockets, mortars and shells bombard residential areas on a daily basis.
A dire humanitarian crisis and growing bloodshed has increased pressure on the international community to do more, and the UN Security Council is examining a draft resolution to strengthen the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission and protect civilians.—AFP
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