Ivory Coast: Pro-Ouattara fighters battle to enter capital

By Nangayi Guyson – Abidjan – Fighting broke out on Wednesday between forces loyal to internationally recognised Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara as  his troops entered Ivory Coast’s capital, residents of Yamoussoukro.

Alassane Ouattara  forces have been fighting  from the north and incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has appealed for a ceasefire.

Mr Gbagbo refuses to stand down despite the UN saying he lost November’s poll.

A resident of Tiebissou said, “There has been shooting for two hours in Tiebissou, currently fighting is taking place downtown a strategic point of access to the political capital of Ivory Coast.

“Fighting with heavy weapons started at 02:00, we are hiding in our houses. We heard the first detonations at the exit towards Bouake,” a Ouattara stronghold, another resident of the town told AFP.

The town is held by soldiers loyal to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power to Ouattara after a November election. But forces backing Ouattara have grown weary of failed diplomatic efforts and are waging a vast offensive to seize control of towns across the country. In a push south from a traditional ceasefire line splitting the country in two since 2002 – which left pro-Ouattara rebels in control of the north and Gbagbo holding the south – Ouattara’s army seized four strategic towns on Tuesday.

In the far west, the town of Duekoue and, closer to the centre of the country, the large city of Daloa were captured.

Both cities are key entry points to areas of cocoa production as well as the road leading to San Pedro – the world’s largest cocoa exporting port.

In the far east, Bondoukau fell to pro-Ouattara fighters, followed by Abengourou further south, residents reported, placing them 220km from Abidjan.

UN agencies says Ivory Coast’s  election-linked violence has left at least 460 people dead with as many as one million fleeing their homes and attacks on civilians by pro-Gbagbo youths have continued.

The enrolment of these youths into the army was due to start on Wednesday to replace soldiers who are not turning up for work or who have changed sides.