Côte d'Ivoire

U.N. peacekeepers blocked after Ivory Coast attacks

By Peter Murphy
ABIDJAN, July 26 (Reuters) - Two teams of United Nations peacekeepers in Ivory Coast have been blocked by local villagers as they tried to reach a town where gunmen attacked security forces over the weekend, a U.N. military source said on Tuesday.

A group of U.N. military observers accompanied by around 50 peacekeepers was blocked on the road to Agboville on Monday by a burning barricade while a second team of soldiers sent to help was stuck in another village, the source said.

"We have a team stuck in Petit Yapo and a team stuck in Gomon. The local population won't allow them through," the source said, referring to villages which lie around 20 km (12 miles) and 35 km (22 miles) south of Agboville.

Unidentified gunmen attacked police and gendarmerie stations in the main city Abidjan and in Agboville on Sunday. Soldiers backed by tanks later regained control of the town, though up to 2,000 prisoners escaped in the chaos.

The United Nations has said it is determined to get to Agboville to see what happened. The U.N. source said a request for help from the Ivorian army had so far been denied but said the teams did not fear for their safety.

Ivory Coast's ruling party has blamed rebels, who have held the north of the country since a failed coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002, for Sunday's attacks. The rebels have said they have nothing to do with the violence.

The accusations underscored the deep mistrust between the two sides just as a hobbling peace process in the world's top cocoa grower enters a delicate stage, with rebels due to begin registration for a long-delayed disarmament scheme on July 31.

Some 10,000 French and U.N. peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone that splits the rebel north from the government-run south.

The Ivorian army has said at least 17 attackers were killed in Sunday's unrest while more than 30 gunmen were arrested and weapons, ammunition and military uniforms seized. Seven members of the security forces also died.

Agboville, which is in the government-run south of the country, was largely deserted late on Monday as government soldiers armed with rocket launchers patrolled among smashed up cars and went from door to door checking identity papers.

Groups of pro-government Young Patriots armed with machetes and rifles, their faces smeared with charcoal and palm leaves woven around their heads, set up checkpoints around the town. They said they had come out to fight the rebels.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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