Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: More fighting in the West

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ABIDJAN, 23 January (IRIN) - A day after French troops clashed with unidentified armed men in Côte d'Ivoire's western town of Duekoue, loyalist troops clashed for several hours against a group of armed men, leaving casualties on both sides.
Army spokesman, Lt-Col Jules Yao Yao told IRIN on Thursday that the government troops engaged the armed men from around 14:00 GMT on Wednesday in the western town of Toulepleu, close to the Liberian border. The fighting ceased in the late evening, only to start again early Thursday morning, Yao Yao said.

The army lost at least four men with several wounded, while preliminary figures put the number of the dead among the assailants at 20, the spokesman said. He could not say which of the two groups that had emerged in western Côte d'Ivoire in recent weeks clashed with the army. The attackers, he estimated, numbered 400-500 men.

On Tuesday, the contingent of French troops positioned in the western area also clashed, for approximatively 10 minutes according to the French army spokesman, with yet another group of still unidentified armed men.

Two groups that emerged in the western area in November are the Justice and peace Movement and the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Great West. Since then, the western front has been the most volatile with a string of skirmishes and attacks against French and Ivorian troops.

On Tuesday, the French army spokesman described the western area as a "bit confused". Yao Yao added that the confusion was caused by the presence of "mercenaries, robbers and pillagers, politicians associating themselves with fighting troops".

Wednesday's attack came just before the closing of the Ivorian round-table discussion in Paris, organised by the French government. According to news organisations, the talks, which involved the country's main political parties and the three rebel movements, had made progress on several key issues.

Radio France International on Thursday reported that a new government of national unity could be formed as early as Sunday. The meeting was slated to end on Friday and would be followed over the weekend by a high level summit of West African heads of state and other leaders. President Laurent Gbagbo, who would participate in the summit, left Abidjan for Paris on Thursday. He is to meet French President Jacques Chirac on Friday.

Before leaving Abidjan, Gbagbo on Wednesday night met with the UN humanitarian envoy, Carolyn McAskie. During their two-hour meeting, McAskie raised the issue of lack of public services in the rebel-held areas, including health care and education. She called for protection of civilians during the conflict. She also raised the issue of Liberian refugees caught up in the conflict.

Following reports that another shantytown would be destroyed soon, the envoy asked that Ivorian authorities respect and follow a declaration issued by the President on 8 October in which he had said no more shantytowns should be destroyed.

She also called for respect and assurance for safety of humanitarian personnel and access to those in need.

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