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Rebels Capture Key Ivory Coast Town; Angolan Forces in Abidjan - 2002-10-13


Rebels in Ivory Coast have captured the key western town of Daloa as West African efforts to mediate a peace settlement between the rebels and the Ivorian government are renewed. But Angolan troops and tanks have reportedly arrived in the main coastal city of Abidjan to support government forces.

Residents in Daloa, about 400-kilometers northwest of Abidjan, tell VOA that they saw government forces fleeing the city after overnight clashes with rebel forces.

They say some paramilitary police and other security forces loyal to the government ripped off their uniforms as they fled so that they could not be identified. Once heavily-guarded government check-points in and around Daloa are said to be deserted.

Eyewitness Tahe Diaby said the rebels are driving around the city in groups, looking for loyalist soldiers and police who may be hiding. Ms. Diaby says the rebels caught two government security forces men trying to leave town. They put the prisoners in a car and were driving around the city, showing them off to the people.

The rebel Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, composed of several hundred disgruntled former army soldiers, launched a coup attempt on September 19. They are demanding new presidential elections and the reinstatement of all soldiers excluded from the current government.

The rebels control more than half the country, including most of the cocoa fields. Ivory Coast produces 40-percent of the world's cocoa and the rebellion sent the cocoa price to a 17-year high.

Several West African nations have tried to mediate a cease-fire since the crisis began.

A week-ago, they got the rebels to agree to a truce, but Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo backed out at the last minute, saying the rebels had to first lay down their weapons.

The latest attempt to avert an all-out civil war began Saturday with Senegal's foreign minister holding talks with rebel commanders in the central rebel stronghold of Bouake.

Even as the talks go on, the conflict is threatening to spread to other African countries. Ivorian military officials said troops, along with two T-55 Soviet-era tanks, from Angola have arrived in Abidjan to support government forces.

Analysts say their arrival could signal the beginning of a direct commitment of Angola in the Ivorian crisis.

In a surprise move Saturday, President Gbagbo fired his defense minister, leaving the post vacant. Some political observers say they fear the Ivorian leader is trying to take direct control of the army in a bid to wipe out the rebels once and for all. Others say he is trying to find a solution to the crisis by removing the hardline defense minister, as demanded by the rebels.

The United States said the once-prosperous and peaceful country is now in danger of what it calls a "meltdown", while the United Nations is warning of a large-scale humanitarian crisis spreading beyond Ivory Coast's borders.

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