Defence authorities in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, said that heavy fighting continued on Monday between Liberian government troops and insurgents in Toe Town, close to the Ivorian border. The town was captured on Friday by the Liberians United for Reconciliation (LURD) rebel group, according to the Liberian government.
Liberian Defence spokesman Philibert Browne told IRIN on Monday that Liberian government troops were "engaging the rebels to regain control of the town" which, prior to the attack, was a transit point for Ivorian refugees and Liberians fleeing armed conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.
Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea had told a news conference in Monrovia on Saturday that Toe Town had been attacked by two platoons of insurgents "armed and backed by the Ivorian government". He said the attack had been launched from the town of Toulepleu, on the Ivorian side of the border.
"For the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire to encourage Liberian mercenaries fighting alongside their own troops in their civil crisis to cross the border into Liberian territory is tantamount to a declaration of war," Chea said. "[...] those who want to continue this wave of violence against our people must understand that we reserve the right to self-defense."
However, Cote d'Ivoire's armed forces denied Chea's claims. The armed forces "would like to indicate that no foreign mercenary is fighting alongside it and that the statements of the minister of defence of Liberia constitute groundless accusations," Armed Forces spokesman Lt Col Jules Yao Yao said on Sunday.
"On the other hand," he continued, the Ivorian armed forces "recognise that the situation in the west of Cote d'Ivoire remains worrying since the different actors intervening in the conflict are difficult to identify."
Two rebel groups, the Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix (MJP) and the Mouvement patriotique du Grand Ouest (MPIGO), operate on the Ivorian side of the border between Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. The MJP has its headquarters in the town of Man, while MPIGO's territory is farther south, around the town of Danane. Like the Ivorian government, both groups have been accused of using Liberian fighters.
On Sunday, MPIGO leader Felix Doh claimed that Ivorian army helicopters had attacked the town of Bin Houye, which lies near the southern limit of MPIGO-controlled territory. He said the attack, carried out on Saturday, killed about 20 civilians and wounded many others. AFP quoted Doh as saying that he had "given orders to take the offensive".
"Once helicopters start bombarding, I think the ceasefire is over," AFP reported Doh as saying. The ceasefire was signed late last year.
However, Yao Yao claimed that the Ivorian armed forces "were forced to give an appropriate response to an attack against their positions in Toulepleu", which is about 20 km south of Bin Houye. He said the attack had been carried out "by heavily armed men who spoke English" and that "if there were deaths, they could only have occurred during the fighting since the enemy probably registered many losses".
Yao Yao also said that on Sunday "an enemy element evaluated at about 30 persons was detected at Tambly", a village about 5 km east of Duekoue, a government-held town east of the rebel positions. "An offensive reconnaissance is under way to flush out and destroy this element," he said.
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