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Ivory Coast Rebels Take Over Northern Town

Rebel forces in Ivory Coast have taken over yet another town in the north of the country, as foreigners continue to flee.

Residents and town officials in the northern Ivory Coast town of Odienne, near the border with Guinea, said rebels moved into the town, and fired shots into the air.

Residents say the anti-government forces appeared to have met little resistance, as they took over public buildings, including police stations in the town. Witnesses said paramilitary police and soldiers in Odienne ran from their posts, when they heard word that rebel forces were approaching.

Odienne is the latest town to fall to mutinous soldiers, who led initial attacks on various parts of the country on September 19. Bouake in the center and Korhogo in the north were among the first cities attacked. They have remained under rebel control. Abidjan, which was the scene of heavy fighting on the first day of the mutiny, remains under the control of loyalists.

The initial battles left 270 people dead. The death toll rose this week. Witnesses in Bouake reported counting an additional 100 bodies, following intense fighting in the city between loyalist forces and rebels.

Other towns along the border areas with Burkina Faso have also fallen to rebels in recent days.

In a televised speech late Thursday, Ivory Coast's defense minister, Moise Lida Kouassi, declared the areas a war zone, and said a major offensive by loyalist forces was imminent.

French troops continued to evacuate Westerners from Bouake Friday. Hundreds of people, mostly French nationals, had left the city by early Friday, after French troops secured the highway linking the city with the political capital, Yamoussoukro, 100 kilometers to the south.

Nations in the region are urging the Ivory Coast government to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States were due to meet in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on Sunday to discuss the crisis.

The conflict has cut off commercial links between the more populated south and the north, where much of the country's food is grown. The effects of the conflict were felt in Abidjan Friday, where prices of meat and some other food items that usually come from the north nearly doubled.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, was once seen as one of the most stable and prosperous in West Africa until it experienced its first-ever military coup in 1999.