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Ivory Coast Rebels Claim Control of Western Town


Rebels in Ivory Coast say they have taken control of a town in the west of the country, several hundred kilometers from the site of recent fighting. The country's president has vowed not to negotiate with the rebels unless they lay down their weapons.

Rebel leader Felix Doh says his forces have taken control of the western village of Neka without a fight.

The village lies near the Liberian border, and nearly 200 kilometers south of the rebels' known territory. If the rebels control Neka, it gives them a foothold in the south, much closer to the strategic port city of San Pedro.

There have been recent reports the government fears a rebel attack on San Pedro, which is Ivory Coast's second-largest port and handles much of the country's cocoa exports.

The rebel faction claiming to have taken Neka is known as the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West. Another group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, the MPCI, says government troops have broken a cease-fire in the north.

The MPCI says a government helicopter gunship bombarded the village of Menakro, killing several people. The town is in central Ivory Coast not far from the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

The MPCI holds most of the northern and central parts of the country. Its leaders signed a cease-fire with the government in October.

The rebel reports have not been independently confirmed.

In a New Year's Eve address to the country, President Laurent Gbagbo said he would refuse to negotiate with the insurgents until they lay down their weapons. He said the rebels have reached a political and military stalemate, and the government has the backing of the international community.

Mr. Gbagbo vowed to keep fighting until "Ivory Coast recovers its territorial integrity".

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