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29 Mar 2011 12:41
Fighters backing the Côte d’Ivoire’s internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara on Tuesday seized a sixth town in a new push into areas controlled by his rival, Laurent Gbagbo.
The Republican Forces army captured the eastern town of Bondoukau and were parading through the streets, residents said.
“The town has fallen, I am looking for a way to leave Bondoukau,” one resident said.
“There was fighting this morning [Tuesday], they are parading about the town shooting into the air. A rebel detachment is heading towards Agnibilekrou [further south],” another told Agence France-Presse by phone.
Bondoukau is the sixth town seized by the fighters since mid-February in an escalation of a conflict rooted in November 28 elections which the UN-backed voting authority says Ouattara won, a result rejected by Gbagbo.
The pro-Ouattara Republican Forces army has occupied the north of the country since a failed 2002 coup and on Monday launched its biggest offensive since the poll into Gbagbo-controlled areas in the south.
Moving south of the traditional ceasefire line, they attacked Duekoue in the west, Daloa in the centre-west and Bondoukau in the east.
From their stronghold of Bouake in the centre of the country, Repulican Forces spokesperson Seydou Ouattara said his men “control Dalao, Bondoukau and Agnibilekrou”.
He said they were now moving towards Abengourou, 200km north-east of the economic capital Abidjan.
This could not be immediately confirmed by an independent source.
After a day of fierce fighting in Duekoue on Monday, residents reported battles had abated but it remained uncertain who controlled the town, a strategic gate into the country’s cocoa producing belt.
In Daloa the situation was still confused, with differing reports on who controlled the town.
Côte d’Ivoire’s deep political crisis has been accompanied by violence and bloodshed in the four months since the election, which was meant to re-unite the split country.
The international community has raised fears the stand-off, a result of Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power, is pushing the country into full-blown civil war.
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