ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A militia loyal to Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbabgo confirmed Monday that rebels had seized a third town in the west and said reinforcements were on the way to try and take it back.
A post-election standoff between the incumbent leader and his rival Alassane Ouattara has degenerated into gun battles in the main city Abidjan and led the northern rebels to push south in the heaviest fighting since they tried to topple Gbagbo in a 2002-2003 civil war.
The rebels, who took two smaller towns in the west a week ago, announced Sunday that they had captured Toulepleu.
"The rebels took Toulepleu yesterday after combat that lasted the whole day. There were not enough of us to contain them this time as we were hugely outnumbered," said Yao Yao, the chief of Gbagbo's Front for the Liberation of the Great West (FLGO) militia force.
"We retreated to Bloequin, from where we are preparing a counter-offensive. The military reinforcements arrived yesterday."
The urban warfare and western clashes have led to the United Nations warning that the world's biggest cocoa-producing country risks slipping back into civil war.
Cocoa futures have already been regularly breaking 30-year highs on the insecurity. Industry regulatory data showed that unexported stocks of cocoa beans sitting at ports reached over 475,000 tons.
Meanwhile, British miner Cluff Gold Plc said it has suspended operations at its Angovia mine due to shortages of fuel, explosives, cement and cyanide and will not reopen it until political stability returns.
Residents in Liberian border villages told Reuters wounded fighters were crossing over, seeking medical attention.
Tens of thousands of people have fled Ivory Coast to Liberia, and analysts say Ivory Coast's instability could spill over into its fragile neighbors.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by David Lewis and Angus MacSwan)