ABIDJAN, June 13 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's rebels said on Monday they believed President Laurent Gbagbo was preparing to attack their strongholds in the north of the West African nation, which has been divided since civil war erupted in 2002.
The declaration came after a spate of ethnic killings in the west of the world's top cocoa grower stoked simmering tensions between the civil war foes, casting a pall over a fragile peace process ahead of a disarmament deadline this month.
"We have some information showing that Gbagbo is preparing a certain number of things in order to restart hostilities," said Louis Dakoury-Tabley, a senior official in the rebel New Forces.
"At the moment it is too early for us to say (what these are)," he told reporters in the main city, Abidjan.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jules Yao Yao said he had no comment to make on the rebel allegations.
Both sides frequently accuse each other of plotting to start all-out war again in the former French colony.
If anyone did so, they would have to reckon with thousands of U.N. and French troops patrolling a no-weapons buffer zone between the rebel-held north and government-run south.
However, Gbagbo's forces launched attacks on rebel positions in November after weeks of similar press speculation.
Hopes of an end to the conflict, which has killed thousands and threatened to spread turmoil across the volatile region, had been boosted by an April peace deal -- the latest in a string of accords -- signed by Gbagbo and the rebels in South Africa.
Afterwards, Gbagbo said presidential elections would be held on Oct. 30 and military chiefs from both sides agreed to start disarmament on June 27. Since then, however, some rebel leaders have denied they ever agreed a start date.
Ivory Coast's local newspapers, often used by rival political forces to drive public opinion, have been warning over the past few weeks that more fighting could break out.
Le Nouveau Reveil, an opposition paper, said on Monday Angolan mercenaries and weapons had just arrived in Abidjan.
"I don't know what that's based on. For us these are rumours. We will continue to remain vigilant," Yao Yao said.
Fears of fresh fighting have been on the rise since at least 100 people were killed in ethnic violence earlier this month in the western cocoa town of Duekoue.
Rebels and Gbagbo's camp blamed each other for provoking the killings. Analysts say both sides are using the violence as a pretext to avoid laying down their weapons on the June deadline.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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