Gunmen attack army posts, raid prison in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:16pm EDT

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked security posts and freed more than 100 prisoners in a town west of Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan during an overnight raid that ended on Thursday morning, officials and local residents said.

At least five people were killed in the clashes, including two of the gunmen and three civilians, an army commander told Reuters. He declined to say whether any soldiers or other security personnel were killed.

The world's top cocoa grower is struggling to cope with near daily raids against army and police installations that began almost two weeks ago and have revived fears of renewed instability a year after civil war killed 3,000 people.

Ten soldiers have been killed so far and several others wounded in the violence, which the Ivorian government has blamed on supporters of Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo.

Gunfire erupted in Dabou, around 50 km (30 miles) west of Abidjan, at around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, and local residents said they heard loud explosions in several parts of town throughout the night.

"The (army) camp in the town of Dabou was attacked by assailants during the night. They were driven out in the early morning ... The town is under control and we are conducting clean-up operations," Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said.

"It's the same scenario we've seen elsewhere. They come in little groups and attack," he told Reuters.

Residents of Dabou said a gendarme post and prison were also targeted in the attack.

"It was an attack in several parts of town. Around 3 a.m. the power was cut and the fighting intensified," Achille Odjo told Reuters by telephone from Dabou early on Thursday.

"They attacked the army camp, the gendarmerie and the prison. They broke in and freed the prisoners there," he said.

All but one of the 119 people jailed in the prison remained on the loose, according to the army commander in Dabou, Ousmane Coulibaly.

CIVIL WAR

The streets of Dabou were mostly deserted after the fighting ceased, except for army patrols.

"It was difficult, because I've already been through this in Abidjan," said Pierre Adanhoume, a market trader in Dabou who ventured out in the afternoon, referring to the fierce fighting in Abidjan last year during the civil war.

"I came back to my native village and I have to relive this, it is very sad," he said.

Ivory Coast's brief civil war erupted last year after Gbagbo refused to acknowledge defeat to rival Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election in late 2010.

Gbagbo was captured during the battle for Abidjan and is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

Ouattara, now president, has largely succeeded in restoring security in most of the country since the end of the conflict, and the economy, once the motor of French-speaking West Africa, is now rebounding after 10 years of stagnation.

U.N.-backed efforts to remove from circulation thousands of weapons left over from the conflict have faltered, however, and the army and police remain crippled by internal division.

The Defense Ministry has said the attacks, which followed several deadly cross-border raids by gunmen based in Liberia, aim to unsettle the population and foreign investors, who have begun to slowly trickle back to the country.

The government has said several of the attacks were carried out with the complicity of currently serving soldiers, and a number of military personnel have been arrested.

Gbagbo's political allies have rejected accusations of involvement in the violence and accuse the security services of widespread round-ups of suspected supporters of the former president.

(Additional reporting by Alain Amontchi in Dabou; Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Editing by Alison Williams)

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