Ivory Coast forces attack to dislodge Gbagbo militia
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Last Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 22:43
Abidjan: Ivory Coast's new government forces attacked to dislodge die-hard militia of deposed Laurent Gbagbo holed up in Abidjan, causing hundreds of residents to flee amid heavy gunfire.

Explosions reverberated across the city as President Alassane Ouattara's forces pounded the northwestern Yopougon district, a stronghold of Gbagbo fighters who have refused to disarm nine days after he was arrested.

Hundreds of frightened residents fled the district across the lagoon in small boats packed with suitcases and household items, heading to safer areas of Plateau and Treichville, an AFP correspondent said.

"Since 4:00 am we have been hearing heavy firing and loud explosions. We were forced to flee the neighbourhood very early," a Yopougon resident said.

"An FRCI soldier told us that they had come to dislodge pro-Gbagbo's Liberian militia who are still hiding in Yopougon," said another resident, using the acronym for Ouattara's forces.

The FRCI took control of Abidjan after Gbagbo's April 11 arrest and are trying to secure the city for the new government to fully exert authority and return normalcy to the strife-torn country.

But armed groups in Yopougon are still challenging the new authorities.

"I am waiting for a boat with my four children to sail across," said an elderly woman who was trying to flee the militia-held district.

Another resident said: "The walls were shaking, we all fled."

Gbagbo has been placed under house arrest in a secret location in the north of the country after Ouattara's forces captured him with the help of United Nations and French forces.

His refusal to cede power to Ouattara, whom the international community acknowledged as having won the disputed November presidential elections, plunged the west African country into a months-long tense deadlock.

Ouattara's government this week began exercising power and yesterday Prime Minister Guillaume Soro held the first ministerial meeting at the official government office, with security topping the agenda.

"I think that security has hugely improved since the first difficult days," Soro told reporters. "The interior minister informed us that the police have gone back to their base ... and they are ready for work."

FRCI troops set up checkpoints in the city, stopping and inspecting vehicles at several intersections.

Negotiations between the new government and militia willing to disarm have meanwhile been unsuccessful, a defence ministry source said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 22:43

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