ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Security forces loyal to Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo launched a ground and airborne assault on Saturday to flush out fighters backing his rival for the presidency from an Abidjan suburb, military officials said.
The attack was the first time helicopters were deployed in support of an operation in the Abobo neighborhood, the site of violent clashes between the two sides over recent weeks.
Gbagbo has refused to step down after a November election which Alassane Ouattara, according to U.N.-certified results. Ensuing violence has claimed several hundred lives and prompted close to half a million Ivorians to flee their homes.
"This assault is about restoring order and bringing full peace to Abobo, which is the main center of tension and instability in Abidjan," Commandant Hugues Tanny told Reuters.
Officials said several hundred soldiers, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades, were involved in an operation supported by several armored vehicles and 2 Puma reconnaissance helicopters.
The latest African Union effort to mediate in the crisis failed this week, adding to fears of a return to civil war in the world's top cocoa grower.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Matthew Jones)