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UN Kept Out Of Ivory Coast Town

United Nations peacekeepers have been stopped from entering a city in southern Ivory Coast that was the scene of armed attacks early Sunday. Many residents fear for their safety amid a strong presence of government soldiers.

Moroccan peacekeepers and French soldiers, serving under the United Nations peacekeeping mandate in Ivory Coast lined a road about 50 kilometers west of Agboville, Monday. They are waiting to enter the town.

Early Sunday morning, unidentified armed men attacked the city's police station and prison. The Ivorian army quickly deployed troops to regain control of Agboville, which is about 70 kilometers north of the main city, Abidjan, in government controlled territory.

But the U.N. peacekeepers, who are in Ivory Coast to monitor a ceasefire between northern rebels and government forces, were turned back by local villagers as they headed to Agboville late Sunday.

A few kilometers up the road from where the U.N. has stopped, a group of villagers man an improvised roadblock of logs. As they check identity cards and papers. They say they will not allow the peacekeepers to pass.

Further on, a group of men is burying a body at the edge of the pavement. They say the man is a rebel shot by the army earlier in the day.

The head of President Laurent Gbagbo's political party, Pascal Affi Nguessan, accuses northern rebels, known as the New Forces, of being behind attacks in Agboville and other towns in the south that began late Saturday and left several policemen dead.

The New Forces deny any involvement. And Ivorian authorities have yet to identify the assailants.

Two French helicopters fly over Agboville. The streets are empty. Ivorian soldiers in armored vehicles are stationed at major intersections. And local men patrol a marketplace.

A local parliament member from President Gbagbo's party, Daniel Abo Akpinde, says it was a community decision to close the city off. He says together, the residents of Agboville decided no one should be allowed to come in and stir things up.

But a few blocks away, in a neighborhood inhabited largely by residents with northern origins, people are afraid.

A group of local men point out bullet holes in the walls of their homes. They say since Sunday, they have been terrorized repeatedly by Ivorian police and soldiers, who, they say, drive into their neighborhood near Agboville's main mosque and shoot at their houses.

One man says they fired shots all through the previous night. No one slept, he says. And as night begins to fall again, people here say they are scared.

Alan Doss, the United Nations second in charge in Ivory Coast, says that while the peacekeeping mission has a mandate to intervene to help endangered civilians, the situation in Agboville is complicated.

"We do not want to be in a situation that we have to be in conflict with civilians. So, we want to help civilians, but not at the same time attack civilians. And at each of these roadblocks, there have been civilians," Mr. Doss says.

U.N. representatives met with President Gbagbo late Monday, in an attempt to clear the way for peacekeepers to enter the city.

"We've opted to negotiate each level, go through and continue on. And I think tomorrow morning, we will be in Agboville," Mr. Doss says.

Around six thousand U.N. peacekeepers are currently in Ivory Coast. Another four thousand French soldiers fall under the United Nations mandate.