Rebels' gains threaten return to all-out war in Ivory Coast

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The Independent Online

Rebels controlling northern Ivory Coast have seized a town in government territory and said yesterday they were still advancing, raising the prospects of a return to open war.

Forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who is still clinging to power after an election most of the world says he lost, confirmed the fall of Zouan-Hounien in an overnight attack and said they would fight to take it back.

"We're in the process of reorganising ourselves," Yao Yao, head of operations of the pro-Gbagbo Front for the Liberation of the Greater West said.

The small, remote town lies in western Ivory Coast near the forested border with Liberia and is in the "confidence zone" that has separated the rival sides since an attempted coup against Gbagbo in 2002. The fighting there comes after a week of growing violence in the world's biggest cocoa producer.

Ouattara Seydou, a spokesman for the rebel New Forces, said they had been attacked from Zouan-Hounien and were moving south to another town held by Gbagbo loyalists.

Ethnic tensions in Ivory Coast spiralled after November's election, which Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara is widely recognised to have won.

Gbagbo, in power for more than a decade, has refused to cede the presidency of the once wealthy country, which has been split between north and south since the failed coup led to a civil war. African Union efforts to end the crisis through diplomacy have made no headway.

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