Ivorian rebels take western town as violence mounts
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast rebels have seized a third town in the west of the African country, forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbabgo said Monday, while at least six died in violence around the main city Abidjan.
A standoff between Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara after a disputed presidential election has sparked gun battles and encouraged northern New Forces (FN) rebels backing Ouattara to push south in the heaviest fighting since a 2002-2003 civil war.
Gbagbo's refusal to step down despite U.N.-certified results showing him the loser has led to sanctions aimed at squeezing the cocoa trade in the world's top grower. Gbagbo said Monday the state would handle all exports after foreign operators followed a call by Ouattara for a temporary halt to supplies.
The United Nations says at least 365 have been killed in the crisis since November's vote. Diplomats believe the figure is far higher as the Ivorian army rarely reports deaths.
"The rebels took Toulepleu yesterday (Sunday) after combat that lasted the whole day," said Yao Yao, operations chief of Gbagbo's Front for the Liberation of the Great West (FLGO). The rebels had already taken two smaller western towns last week.
"There were not enough of us to contain them this time as we were hugely outnumbered," he said, adding the FLGO had retreated to await reinforcements and was preparing a counter-attack.
No death toll was available from Sunday's fighting.
Elsewhere, at least three Ivorians were killed and 30 wounded in an attack overnight on a village seen as loyal to Gbagbo, his interior ministry said, adding that a Catholic church was sheltering 700 people who had fled.
The village of Anokoua-Koute, populated by the mainly pro-Gbagbo Ebrie tribe, lies within a suburb of Abidjan now largely controlled by insurgents loyal to Ouattara.
The attack was separately confirmed by two witnesses. All blamed it on "rebels." The New Forces were not immediately available for comment.
GUNS AND MACHETES
In a separate incident Monday, pro-Gbagbo students burnt three people to death, after beating them unconscious in the pro-Ouattara suburb of Abobo, witnesses said.
"Three people were killed behind the railway station at around 1600. The crowd were saying they had bags of weapons," said Idrissa Diarrassouba, who said he saw them killed.
Gbagbo's youths, armed with guns and machetes have followed a call by their leader Ble Goude to set up roadchecks all over the country aimed at flushing out suspected rebels.
The United Nations fears the world's top cocoa grower could slip back into all-out war, a prospect helping cocoa futures to break 30-year highs. Supplies have already been strangled by a combination of sanctions, Ouattara's call for a temporary export ban, and the near-collapse of the local banking system.
Industry regulatory data Monday showed 475,345 tonnes of cocoa beans, more than a third of the country's annual output, were currently sitting at Ivorian ports.
Gbagbo needs tax revenues from cocoa exports to pay soldiers and civil servants and in a bid to get the trade started again he issued a decree taking the export of cocoa into state hands.
"The export of products in the coffee and cocoa sector are to be carried out by the state, by those mandated by the state, or holders of an exporter's licence under terms determined by the decree," state television said.
Around 300,000 Ivorians have fled their homes to shelter elsewhere in the country, while 72,000 have taken refugee across the border in Liberia, the U.N. refugee agency estimates.
Aside from the paralysis of the cocoa industry, the virtual collapse of the banking sector has made even the most basic economic activity difficult and undermined investor faith in the one-time economic star of the region.
The British mining firm Cluff Gold Plc said Monday it had suspended operations at its Angovia mine due to shortages of fuel, explosives, cement and cyanide, and would not reopen it until political stability returns.
(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
- U.S. war veteran released by North Korea returns home |
- Pennsylvania newlyweds "just wanted to murder someone together:" police
- U.S. ice storm causes blackouts, delays in Texas, Arkansas
- WTO overcomes last minute hitch to reach its first global trade deal
- China's parliament: Japan has "no right to criticize" air defense zone
Nelson Mandela: 1918 - 2013
Reuters looks at the life and times of Nelson Mandela, an icon of peace and reconciliation who came to embody the struggle for justice around the world. Video