Security forces loyal to Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed president, Laurent Gbagbo, have launched a fresh attack to drive fighters backing Alassane Ouattara, his rival for the presidency, out of a suburb of Abidjan, military officials said.
Saturday’s attack comes 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.
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.
“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.
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 escrow account for Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa revenues that would allow Ouattara to benefit from funding once the trade restarts.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow reports from Abidjan, how a bloody battle for power is escalating in the West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire.