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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 18:23 GMT
Thousands trapped by Ivorian fighting
French soldier watching fleeing civilians
French troops will not get involved in fighting
About 30,000 refugees from West African wars are trapped by fresh fighting in the Ivory Coast, say the United Nations.


"We remain hopeful that a solution can be found. An implosion would be catastrophic for the region

Astrid Van Genderen Stort, UNHCR

Hundreds of other civilians, Liberians and Ivorians, have been fleeing to Liberia after a new rebel force, the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP), captured the strategic central town of Danane, in Ivory Coast, and moved towards the town of Man.

The Ivory Coast has been divided into rebel and government controlled areas since a rebellion in September.

But a six week truce effectively collapsed on Thursday as fighting flared along the line of control, which is being monitored by French soldiers.

The situation appeared calm on Friday in the town of Vavoua which government troops, supported by mercenaries, failed to capture from the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) rebels during an attack on Thursday.

But the BBC's Kate Davenport in the nearby town of Daloa, controlled by the government, says that more Ivorian troops have been going up from Daloa to Vavoua.

No contact

The trapped refugees, mostly from Liberia, are caught up in the town of Danane, seized from government forces on Thursday by the MJP.

"We are very concerned about more than 30,000 refugees we have in the Danane area. It is very difficult to get in contact with them," Astrid Van Genderen Stort of the UN refugee agency said.

But she said a humanitarian disaster could be avoided.

"We remain hopeful that a solution can be found. An implosion would be catastrophic for the region," she said.

On Thursday, Liberian President Charles Taylor said he was concerned about security at the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia.

> "Heavy artillery, mortar and sustained gunfire can still be heard from the Liberian border town of Loguatuo, where hundreds of Ivorians and Liberians are fleeing to safety," Mr Taylor said.

He said Liberia's National Security Council had decided to take "all necessary measures to prevent the fighting spilling over into Liberian territory".

Relief

He said border police had been instructed to disarm foreigners trying to "enter Liberian territory with guns".

The UN has already dispatched relief and shelter equipment for people streaming into Loguatuo.

Ivorian rebel
The rebels complain of discrimination against Muslims

A UNHCR team will remain in the region for up to five days to establish the facts about Ivorian nationals crossing into Liberia, a UNHCR official told the BBC.

The UNHCR has also sent trucks to evacuate the Liberians who have arrived in Loguatuo to their home villages.

"The good thing is that most of the returning people are originally from the region to which they are coming," UNHCR spokesman Moses Okello said.

The former BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle says the return of Liberians to their war torn country indicates how far Ivory Coast has descended into chaos.

Malians

The BBC's Kate Davenport in Daloa says that Malian nationals are now leaving the town, for fear of further attacks against Muslims.

Many foreign nationals have already left the country after attacks on foreigners in government-held areas.

Traders in Abidjan
Traders look through the wreckage of their stalls

Daloa changed hands in quick succession a few weeks ago, and government troops have now been using it as a base for their attack on Vavoua.

But the rebels have "had enough" and have vowed to retain the city, one of their spokesmen told the BBC.

Our correspondent said that French troops deployed as a buffer force between the two sides, were preparing to go to Vavoua to assess the situation after Thursday's fighting.

The leader of the MPCI, Guillaume Soro, has said that dozens of civilians died during the government offensive in Vavoua.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Sery Baille, Government Minister on Focus on Africa
"The ceasefire was broken by the rebels so our soldiers reacted"

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See also:

26 Nov 02 | Africa
25 Nov 02 | Africa
21 Nov 02 | Africa
18 Nov 02 | Africa
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