More Ivorians flee clashes in north Abidjan

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:20 AM
More Ivorians flee clashes in north Abidjan

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Dozens of people left a district of Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan on Sunday, a day after gun battles between forces backing two presidential rivals.

Residents of the northern Abobo district said clashes between forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and those supporting his rival Alassane Ouattara continued most of Saturday, but had died down on Sunday.

"People are starting to leave because they fear more combat," said Issa Dembele, a resident of Abobo. "Personally, I'm preparing to evacuate my own family."

The United Nations estimates around 200,000 people -- most of Abobo's population -- have left in the past two weeks.

Gbago has refused to step down after a November presidential election, which Ouattara is recognized internationally as having won.

Forces loyal to Gbagbo launched an assault on Saturday to drive Ouattara's fighters out of the suburb, although residents said those fighters still controlled several areas.

The latest African Union effort to mediate in the dispute failed this week, adding to fears of a return to civil war in the world's top cocoa grower, whose crisis has pushed cocoa futures to regular 32-year highs in recent weeks.

Allies of Gbagbo, who contends the poll was rigged, refused to accept an AU proposal for a Ouattara-led unity government.

"Things are calm now, apart from gunfire here and there. But people are leaving," said Abobo resident Tiemoko Souala.

International sanctions such as a ban on European ships using Ivorian ports, together with the near-collapse of the local banking sector, mean supplies of Ivory Coast's cocoa to world markets have virtually dried up.

Around 400 people have already been killed in post-election violence according to the United Nations, while some 450,000 Ivorians have fled their homes for fear of attacks. Around 90,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Liberia.

(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Elizabeth Piper)