Ouattara forces open new fronts across Ivory Coast

Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:07pm GMT

By Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Former rebels controlling the north of Ivory Coast opened up two new fronts on Monday, and heavy clashes broke out in a western cocoa-producing area as a bid to force incumbent Laurent Gbagbo from power escalated.

Rebels who seized the north in the 2002-3 civil war and now back Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo's rival and the man recognised as president by most world leaders, on Monday advanced on Duekoue, which had previously remained under Gbagbo's control.

Ouattara's men said they had taken Duekoue, lying on a main road in a region that produces around 250,000 tonnes of cocoa a year for the world's top growing nation. But Gbagbo's forces denied it and several witnesses said fighting was on-going.

A violent dispute over the presidential election last November that was meant to draw a line under Ivory Coast's civil war has instead restarted it, after Gbagbo refused to step down despite U.N.-certified results showing that he lost.

The rebels also opened up two fresh military fronts in the east and west, in an apparent escalation of their push after fighting had been limited to Abidjan and the far west.

Witnesses said fighting erupted in the eastern village of Laodiba as pro-Ouattara forces tried to seize it, 5 km from the nearest major town of Bondoukou, near the border with Ghana.

A military source said rebels also marched south to an area just outside of Daloa, in the heart of Ivory Coast's cocoa belt, but had not yet met resistance from Gbagbo's forces.

"There has been fighting all day in Laodiba. Lots of villagers have fled the place to other villages," resident Abdoulaye Timite told Reuters by telephone.   Continued...

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