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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Ivorian loyalists battle for key city
Rebel troops in Bouake
Rebels have held Bouake since the revolt began
Rebels and government forces in Ivory Coast are reported to be continuing their battle for control of the country's second city, Bouake.

Rebellion
19/09 Disgruntled soldiers seize Bouake, Korhogo
22/09 Immigrants homes razed in Abidjan
29/09 1,000+ Westerners evacuated
06/10 Mediation fails
07/10 Govt offensive on Bouake
The French news agency, AFP, reported firing - apparently from a government column to the east of the city - puncturing a brief spell of calm early on Tuesday.

Earlier, both sides had claimed victory in the fierce battle for control of the city of 500,000, but the rebels succeeded on Monday in pushing government forces back to the city's outskirts.

Government forces launched the offensive to wrench Bouake from rebel hands on Sunday, after the government ruled out signing a truce agreement, brokered by West African diplomats.

However, Communications Minister Serri Bailly said if they could retake Bouake then the government might be in a position to sign an agreement.

The minister said with Bouake under their control, they would no longer be approaching negotiations humiliated and without dignity.

Bouake confusion

Earlier, there had been confusion over the situation in Bouake

An army spokesman had told the BBC that the rebels fled northwards during a government offensive, and soldiers were no longer meeting any resistance.

map
But one of the rebel leaders, Sergeant Sherif Usman, told journalists in Bouake that it was his forces who were in charge.

"The loyalists have fled and it is we who control Bouake," he said.

"They entered the city, then retreated because they took major casualties," he added.

For more than two weeks the city has been in the hands of rebels from the Patriotic Movement, who control much of the north of the country.

Sergeant Usman, with his arm in a sling after being wounded during the fighting, said that rebel reinforcements had arrived.

"We are preparing an offensive, it's the strategy we shall adopt from now on," Sergeant Usman said.

Xenophobia

There were reports on Tuesday that skirmishes had broken out between loyalist volunteers and Muslims in the capital, Yamoussoukro, forcing police to intervene.

The fights came as the government of neighbouring Burkina Faso warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Ivory Coast.

It says many of its own citizens - who are seen as being allied to the rebels - were being targeted.

It said that several Burkinabe had been killed and that Ivorian civilians had been incited by xenophobia.

Many of the rebels come from the largely Muslim north of the country and have long complained of discrimination by Christian southerners.

The rebels have been calling for the overthrow of President Gbagbo and for fresh elections in which all political parties would be allowed to participate.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Ivorian Information Minister Sery Bailly
"We are not against a ceasefire"
Burkina ambassador to EU, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo
"We categorically deny any involvement in the present crisis"
The BBC's Paul Welsh reports from Abidjan
"The government refused to get involved in a truce with the rebels"

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