Battles rage with mysterious Ivory Coast insurgents

2011-02-25 11:07

ABIDJAN - Gun battles and explosions raged overnight in an Abidjan neighbourhood, residents said, where mysterious insurgents the local press are calling the “invisible commandos” have risen up against incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

Hundreds of residents continued to stream out of Abidjan’s Abobo neighbourhood, the latest battle ground between Gbagbo and presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara over a violently disputed November election.

UN-certified results showed Ouattara won that vote, but Gbagbo has refused to concede and the conflict appears to be entering a new phase, as open street combat between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces flares up in Abidjan and fighting has spread to the west.

“Gun shots were echoing everywhere throughout the night and there was heavy arms fire. We haven’t slept a wink,” said resident Souala Tiemoko.

“This morning, the streets are thronging with people trying to get out. They are going to other neighbourhoods or villages.”

A Reuters witness saw hundreds marching along the roadside leading out of Abobo, home to more than 250 000, carrying what belongings they could salvage.

The spread of clashes in the world’s top cocoa grower comes amid diplomatic efforts by the African Union to resolve a dispute that look increasingly unlikely to achieve anything.

Cocoa futures have been propelled to 30-year highs by the insecurity.

The United Nations says more than 300 people have been killed in the conflict, but diplomats think that figure to be hugely understated because Ivory Coast’s military rarely discloses casualties of their own or civilians they kill.

Fighting spread to the volatile west of the country on Thursday, when rebels who seized the northern half of the country in a 2002-3 civil war, clashed with the pro-Gbabgo Ivorian military. No further clashes were reported overnight. But Abidjan’s northern Abobo neighbourhood has become the scene of daily bloodshed.

“There are a lot of people who have left now,” said resident Hamed Fofana. “We thought the battle would end yesterday but it continues to terrify us.”
Gbagbo’s government spokesperson Ahoua Don Mello says the gunmen are rebels who have come down from the north, but Ouattara’s parallel government, operating out of a Lagoon-side hotel guarded by UN peacekeepers, says they are civilians and army defectors who have taken up arms against Gbagbo. 

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