ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Unidentified gunmen attacked a village in western Ivory Coast and set it ablaze early Saturday, killing three people and prolonging a spate of recent violence that has displaced thousands, a U.N. official said.
Sylvie van den Wildenberg, spokeswoman for the country's U.N. peacekeeping mission, said the dead were two civilians, three assailants and one member of the dozos, a group of traditional hunters that have assumed an unofficial security role in the west.
The attack targeted the village of Petit Guiglo, located 15 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Blolequin.
The attack is the third in less than two weeks in Ivory Coast's western region, where some of the worst atrocities were committed during the country's 2010-11 postelection conflict.
Ute Kollies, head of the U.N.'s humanitarian agency, said the fighting may have caused "significant human and material damage," but that a complete assessment was unavailable Saturday evening because of the remoteness of the attack's location.
An internal security notice from the U.N. peacekeeping mission said the attack began at 6 a.m. and ended around noon.
Ivory Coast was rocked by five months of postelection violence after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down despite losing the November 2010 presidential runoff to current President Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo, who ruled Ivory Coast for a decade, is awaiting trial on allegations of crimes against humanity at The Hague.
After the conflict, many pro-Gbagbo fighters along with Liberian mercenaries who supported Gbagbo fled into neighboring Liberia, where they are believed to have launched cross-border attacks dating back at least to July 2011. An attack in June 2012 killed seven U.N. peacekeepers and 10 civilians.
Armed men on March 13 attacked the town of Zilebly, located about 10 kilometers from the border with Liberia, killing two soldiers and five civilians, according to the U.N. Local officials said they believed the perpetrators had crossed the border from Liberia.
Early Thursday morning, attackers struck the village of Toubly, located 9 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Toulepleu, an important town along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border.
Joseph Malanda, commander of the U.N. police force in the west of the country, said there were no casualties in that attack, but that three assailants were arrested and weapons including AK-47s were recovered.
No group has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks, but this week several media houses supporting the former president, Gbagbo, received a letter purportedly from the leader of an armed group called the "Ivorian Movement for the Return of the We to the West."
The We people include the Guere ethnic group, whose members largely supported Gbagbo in the 2010 election and were victims in the worst atrocities carried out by pro-Ouattara fighters in the west during the postelection conflict.
In the nearly two years since the conflict ended, ethnic Guere in western Ivory Coast have complained about abuses - including torture and extrajudicial killings - at the hands of the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast.
In the letter, the movement vows to take up arms against Ouattara's "bloody regime" as well as the international community.