Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

At least 15 killed in Ivory Coast rebel battle

REUTERS , ABIDJAN

At least 15 people were killed in a gunbattle in the stronghold of Ivory Coast's rebels on Friday as rival armed bands fought for a share of loot from a bank blown open by robbers, rebels said.

The violence spread further confusion in the world's top cocoa producer, where a peace deal has shown signs of unravelling since rebels pulled out of the West African country's power-sharing coalition on Tuesday.

A rebel spokesman said there was a three-way fight around the branch of the West African central bank in the city of Bouake between fighters trying to steal money, others trying to protect the bank and civilian looters.

"There were between 15 and 20 dead in the general confusion," Sidiki Konate told reporters from Bouake, in the northern half of the country that has been held by rebels for the past year. Bouake is 350km from the main city of Abidjan.

Robbers, widely believed to be rebels, dynamited the safe on Thursday before fighters loyal to rebel leaders restored order. Residents of Bouake reported gunfire late into the night and said fighters had scattered through the streets.

Rebels declared a night curfew and Konate said they had asked for help from the more than 4,000-strong French force that is helping preserve a ceasefire between the rebels and government forces.

"The rebels are fighting among themselves," said one woman from hiding nearby. "There are gunshots all around the place and we cannot leave the house."

Tension had been building in Ivory Coast even before rebel ministers walked out of a power-sharing government saying President Laurent Gbagbo's was trying to sabotage peace efforts.

The strain is evident behind rebel lines in the largely Muslim north, where poverty has grown over the year it has been cut off from the rest of the tribally riven country of 16 million.

Ivory Coast's war blew up from a failed coup in September last year and left thousands dead before former colonial power France brokered a peace deal.

Another significant crack appeared in rebel ranks this week when one of the nine rebel ministers in the coalition government decided not to walk out with his comrades and attended a cabinet meeting with Gbagbo.

This story has been viewed 2261 times.
TOP top