Ouattara’s troops launch new offensive on Abidjan

Heavy arms fire and explosions rang out in Abidjan Monday as forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara launched a new offensive aimed at unseating Laurent Gbagbo. Both sides have denied committing human rights abuses, despite numerous reports.


AFP - Fighters for Ivory Coast's internationally recognised leader Alassane Ouattara launched Monday a new push to unseat his rival, a spokesman said, as both sides denied committing atrocities.

Heavy weapons fire and explosions could be heard from Abidjan's central Plateau area, site of the presidential palace, as the offensive began in the early afternoon.

"The offensive has been launched," said Sidiki Konate, spokesman for Ouattara's prime minister Guillaume Soro.

"At 13H00, movements started towards four large corridors. We are securing our passage. The objective is to converge on Plateau and Cocody (north)," he said.


Cocody is home to strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge that he lost November 28 elections and is fighting to the last to keep hold of the presidency.

Gbagbo has rallied supporters to form a "human shield" around his residence.

With tensions mounting ahead of a feared final showdown between the rival forces, residents of the country's main city of five million were in lockdown in their homes while armed men patrolled the streets.

About 250 foreign nationals were flown out on Monday after 167 left on Sunday, according to the French military which had taken over control of the airport in Abidjan.

A French expatriate describes the scene in Abidjan (4/4/2011)

"Four planes left for Dakar and Lome (Monday). There were about 250 foreign citizens, including French," said spokesman for the French forces Licorne (Unicorn), Frederic Daguillon.

More than 1,650 foreigners, around half of them French, had assembled at a French military camp while the French authorities announced two new gathering points for its citizens ahead of possible evacuation.

After bolstering forces with 300 men over the weekend, France announced another 150 would be deployed, charged mainly with protecting foreigners, taking the number to 1,650.

Weary of failed diplomatic efforts to resolve the post-election crisis, Ouattara's army launched their lightning offensive a week ago, seizing much of the country and entering Abidjan late last week.

Weakened by the desertion of key allies and isolated by the international community when the battle for Abidjan began, Gbagbo since clawed his way back, managing to repulse attacks on his strongholds.

Gbagbo received a boost Sunday when army chief General Philippe Mangou, who deserted him last week, left his refuge at the South African ambassador's home and met with him in an apparent change of heart.

Reports have meanwhile emerged of human rights abuses over the week including the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the western town of Duekoue.

The International Red Cross has said 800 died in Duekoue in one day in an incident "particularly shocking by its size and brutality".

The Catholic mission Caritas reported 1,000 were "killed or disappeared" while the UN mission gave an initial death toll of 330, saying that while both camps were involved in the mass killings, the majority of deaths were caused by pro-Ouattara fighters.

The United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights Ivan Simonovic arrived Sunday to investigate.

Both camps are blaming each other for the killings and Ouattara's camp slammed the UN mission (UNOCI) for being "absent" during the killings.

On Sunday UN chief Ban Ki-moon demanded in a telephone call with Ouattara that he take action against any of his followers who may have taken part.

The mounting fighting has caused a dire humanitarian crisis which has sent some one million people fleeing their homes, many of them escaping to neighbouring countries.

EU aid chief Kristalina Georgieva appealed for the warring rivals to "please protect civilians, allow the help of humanitarian workers and prevent Cote d'Ivoire from slipping further into civil war."

She said she was alarmed at reports of "manhunts and ethnic killings."

"History has given us far too many detailed examples of the scale of humanitarian disaster (that results) when violence is not stopped decisively," she said.

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