ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked power stations and security facilities in and around Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan in coordinated overnight raids that ended early on Monday, the defense minister said.
The attacks, the first targeting high-profile infrastructure, come a week after a United Nations report claimed that supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo had established a base of operations in neighboring Ghana.
The government of current President Alassane Ouattara last month closed its eastern border with Ghana for more than two weeks, claiming raids had been launched from Ghanaian soil.
Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said a group of armed men disarmed guards protecting the Azito thermal power station in Abidjan’s Yopougon neighborhood late on Sunday night and briefly occupied the site.
“Around 30 elements tried to take Azito. They were pushed out and 10 were taken prisoner with their arms. They are now being interrogated,” he told Reuters.
One of the station’s turbines, responsible for around 15 percent of Ivory Coast’s total electricity production, was damaged in the raid and had been shut down, the mines and energy minister said.
“There won’t be any blackouts resulting from the damage, which seem to be serious, because the Azito team knows what they are doing,” Adama Toungara said.
Ivory Coast possesses an enviably reliable power grid and also exports electricity to Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Mali, said the power station was not damaged in the attack.
Gunmen launched another raid in the town of Bonoua, around 60 km east of Abidjan, where they attempted to break into a police station and gendarmerie to steal weapons.
“They fled towards Samo ... There was an exchange of fire at the (hydroelectric) dam in Samo,” Koffi Koffi said. “We’re carrying out clean-up operations in these zones.”
A spokesman for the Ivorian army said the attacks were “synchronized”. He said military authorities were still investigating whether there had been any deaths or injuries in the violence.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, is recovering from a brief civil war last year that erupted after Gbagbo refused to the accept Ouattara’s victory in an election in late 2010.
More than 3,000 people were killed in the violence, and Gbagbo is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity.
While many of the leading members of his government and military were arrested following the fighting, others fled the country and are living in exile, mainly in neighboring West African states.
Gunmen began attacking army and police installations mainly in Abidjan and other southern towns in August, after more than a year of relative peace.
Ghana’s government has denied the accusations, and Gbagbo’s backers say Ouattara’s government is using the violence as a pretext for a crackdown on the opposition and dozens of arrests.
However, a confidential report by U.N. investigators seen by Reuters last week said Ghana-based former members of the Gbagbo regime had created a “military structure,” hired mercenaries and established several training camps in eastern Liberia. The investigators said the aim was to topple Ouattara’s government.
Editing by Jon Hemming