UPDATE 1-Fighting erupts in western Ivory Coast - army, UN

Thu Feb 24, 2011 12:44pm GMT
 

* Clashes break out between pro-Gbagbo forces and rebels

* Violence follows two days of street fighting in capital

(Adds quotes, details)

ABIDJAN, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Fighting has erupted in western Ivory Coast between forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and northern rebels who have backed his rival Alassane Ouattara, army and United Nations peacekeeping officials said on Thursday.

Clashes in the west come after two days of intense fighting in the main city, Abidjan, and appear to mark an escalation in the post-election struggle for control of the top cocoa producer.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission said the outbreak of fighting in the western 18 Montagnes region was "very worrying".

"(The U.N.) thinks the clash poses a risk of armed conflict restarting ... which would have serious consequences for the Ivorian people and even the sub-region," said Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

An election meant to mark the end of a peace process after the 2002-3 war has instead deepened divisions in the country.

Guinea and Liberia, two countries still trying to recover from their own political instability and conflicts, lie just to Ivory Coast's west.

Toure said the U.N. was calling on all sides to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, which has seen Gbagbo refuse to step down after a Nov. 28 election, which U.N.-certified results showed Ouattara won.

"There are clashes between us and the New Forces (rebels still controlling the north of the country)," an officer in the pro-Gbagbo forces told Reuters, asking not to be named.

The officer said he did not know who had started the clash overnight but he said the fighting was continuing just north of the town of Danane.

The post-election crisis has already killed well over 300 people and propelled cocoa futures to 30-year highs. (Reporting by Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa; writing by David Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)

 
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