Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast says rebels attack, break truce

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By Matthew Tostevin

ABIDJAN, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's western rebels and Liberian fighters linked to the insurgents attacked on two fronts on Thursday in violation of a truce in place for peace talks in Paris, the army said.

Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao told Reuters that rebels attacked loyalist positions at Blolequin - in an important cocoa-growing region of the world's top producer - and Liberian looters attacked the southwestern village of Olodio.

Troops from former colonial power France, who are monitoring the truce, said that they had nobody on the ground who could tell if there had been fighting. The two western rebel factions were not immediately available for comment.

"At Blolequin we know it was the rebels because they attacked with heavy weapons," Yao said. "We have repulsed the attack and informed the French. That is all. We are not going to do anything to disrupt the talks."

French troops would try to get to the area to find out more, army spokesman Colonel Christian Baptiste said in Paris.

If confirmed, the fighting would be the first since rebel groups in western Ivory Coast signed a truce in Togo on Monday ahead of peace talks in Paris to end four months of war that began with a failed coup on September 19.

Defence Minister Kadet Bertin said it was clear that the rebels had broken their word.

"Really this is a violation. The rebels attacked us at our positions. It is not a small incident," he told Reuters.

Political leaders and rebel chiefs began on Thursday to map out the issues to be dealt with at the talks.

The war in what was once seen as a haven of stability has left hundreds dead and displaced up to one million. It prompted France to send 2,500 troops to protect some 20,000 expatriates and try to halt the feared descent into chaos.

Yao Yao said an attack at Olodio, a good 250 km (160 miles) to the south, had been carried out by "Liberian looters". He said the army was "in the course of carrying out a security operation to protect the villagers."

Liberia, itself torn apart by more than a dozen years of strife, has said no Liberians are fighting in Ivory Coast with official approval, but it is possible that mercenaries have crossed to join the rebels.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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