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Gbagbo Forces Fight Back In Ivory Coast

Incumbent Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo
The UN says forces loyal to Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo have used an appeal for peace talks as a "trick" to regain ground in the country's main city Abidjan.

The development is a setback for troops under the internationally recognized president, Asassane Ouattara, after they closed in on the city this week.

Shots sounded in Abidjan on April 8 as soldiers loyal to Ouattara took up position around the city. They claimed to have besieged the Gbagbo's residence, but have now been pushed back from two key districts.

The fighting has forced residents into hiding. They are struggling to find food and water in a city once known as the "Paris of West Africa."

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said on April 8 that Gbagbo's troops had used a two-day let-up in fighting to regain ground after Gbagbo's foreign minister approached the UN with an offer to negotiate a peace.

"That did not happen. At the end, Mr. Gbagbo, as you all know, rejected any peaceful solution," Le Roy said. "And immediately the next day, on Wednesday morning [April 6], they restarted the shelling, started the shelling at our headquarters and also to the civilian population."

France, the country's former colonial power, said Gbagbo forces had fired on the French ambassador's residence, and that French helicopters had returned fire. Le Roy says Gbagbo's forces are still using tanks, armored personnel carriers, and rocket launchers.

"They have clearly used the lull of Tuesday [April 5] as a trick to reinforce their position. They sent the general to say they agreed to negotiate, in fact they were consolidating their position," Le Roy said.

Reports Of Hundreds Killed

Le Roy said Gbagbo's forces could close in on Abidjan's Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has been holed up under UN protection since a runoff election for president last November. The UN says Ouattara won the vote, but Gbabgo has refused to give up power.

Earlier this week, it appeared that Gbagbo was on the verge of defeat after fighters under Ouattara launched a sustained offensive against him from their stronghold in the country's north, forcing Gbagbo to take refuge in a bunker under his residence. But reports say claims by Ouattara's forces to have surrounded the building were exaggerated, in a city dominated by Gbagbo supporters.

Gbagbo's RTI television, which went off the air when fighting in Abidjan began this week, has resumed broadcasting.

The UN says more than 100 bodies have been found in several locations in the country's west. Reports say some were burned alive and others thrown down wells. Human Rights Watch says Ouattara's forces have killed hundreds and raped more than 20 people in March.

The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described reports of the killings, which appear to be the result of ethnic violence, as "utterly horrifying." Ouattara's forces have denied reports they massacred Gbagbo supporters.

Gbagbo's forces have also been accused of killing more than 100 Ouattara supporters. Pillay said violence on both sides may amount to crimes against humanity.

One million people are believed to have been displaced by the fighting. The UN has warned of a mounting humanitarian crisis and has called for thousands of people felling the violence to be allowed safe passage.

Ivory Coast is the world's biggest producer of cocoa. The European Union on April 8 said it would ease sanctions against the country that have paralyzed exports.

compiled from agency reports