In the face of the escalating unrest, African Union leaders have called for a crisis meeting on Saturday, while UN agencies suspended relief and humanitarian work in the West African country.

On Thursday, aircraft attacked strongholds of the ex-rebel New Forces (FN) at Bouake in the centre and Korhogo in the north, prompting former rebel leaders to say that the shaky peace pact was now "defunct".

The renewed violence has sparked fears that a 22-month-old French-brokered peace accord, which brought former rebel leaders into a government of national unity, could break down entirely.

Divided country

Ivory Coast has effectively been split between a loyalist south and rebel-held north since an attempted coup in September 2002 triggered a civil war.

The UN said its relief agencies had suspended work amid fears for the life of its staff.

The Ivorian military said Thursday's raids - in which three people died and at least 40 were wounded - had achieved their objectives, destroying ex-rebel camps.

Overnight arson attacks on opposition party buildings in government-controlled Abidjan have added to tensions.