Security forces loyal to Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed president, Laurent Gbagbo, have launched a deadly attack to drive fighters backing his political rival Alassane Ouattara out of a suburb of Abidjan, military officials say.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Abidjan confirmed on Sunday that 10 people were killed and scores others wounded overnight when Gbagbo’s forces carried out an onslaught against militias and armed men in the north of the city.
“Overnight Gbagbo’s forces raided Abobo [in northern Abidjan], they have been engaging each other in fighting for close to five hours,” Mohammed Adow said.
“In the city mobs are going round looking for people from the opposing side and attacking them, sometimes killing them. There is very little semblance of law and order in this country at the moment. The situation is getting worse by the day.”
Gbagbo officials said several hundred soldiers, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades, were taking part in an operation backed by armoured vehicles and two reconnaissance helicopters.
They said the operation was an attempt to bring peace to the restive Abobo neighbourhood, which has been the site of fierce fighting between the two sides in recent weeks.
UN peacekeeper attacked
“There was firing all over the place around the Plateau-Dokui [a local square],” Idrissa Diarrassouba, a resident of Abobo said. “A child was hit in the hand by a bullet and houses were struck by bullets.”
However, Hamadoun Toure, UN mission spokesman, played down the extent of the assault, noting “there was some fighting in Abobo but they were just some skirmishes”.
Toure said a member of the 10,000-strong UN force had been wounded when pro-Gbagbo youths attacked him and burned his car at a supermarket in Abidjan.
The United Nations has complained that Gbagbo supporters are whipping up local sentiment against the mission.
Saturday’s attack came as Gbagbo continues to refuse to step down after a disputed November election which Ouattara won, according to UN-certified results.
More than 400 people have been killed since the elections, and the fresh violence renews the spectre of the deadly civil war from 2002-2003, which divided the country into areas of rebel and government control. Nearly half a million Ivorians fled their homes.
The African Union (AU) failed this week, in its latest effort, to broker a settlement in a country that was until recently one of West Africa’s most stable and prosperous economies, and remains the world’s top cocoa grower.
Allies of Gbagbo, who contends that the results of the poll were rigged, refused to accept an AU proposal for a national unity government led by Ouattara.
International sanctions such as a ban on European ships using Ivorian ports, together with the near-collapse of the local banking sector, mean supplies of the country’s cocoa to world markets have virtually dried up.
UN diplomats told the Reuters news agency on Friday, that there were discussions at the UN security council about setting up an account for Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa revenues that would allow Ouattara to benefit from funding once the trade restarts.