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Supporters of Rival Ivorian Presidents Fight Near Liberian Border

A man known as Commander Bauer, the chief of a group of pro-Ouattara fighters, walks with his men in northern Abidjan's Abobo district March 26, 2011

A man known as Commander Bauer, the chief of a group of pro-Ouattara fighters, walks with his men in northern Abidjan's Abobo district March 26, 2011

Supporters of Ivory Coast's two rival presidents are fighting for control of a strategic town near the Liberian border. African Union efforts to resolve the political crisis appear to be stalled over the choice of a mediator.

Soldiers loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo are fighting rebels who back the United-Nations-certified winner of November's vote, Alassane Ouattara.

Both sides say Monday's fighting began before dawn as they battled for control of the town of Duekoue in western Ivory Coast. Pro-Ouattara rebels say they have captured the town. Gbagbo troops say it has not yet fallen.

Duekoue is an important transportation hub linking the port of San Pedro and the capital Yamoussoukro with Guinea and Liberia. Pro-Ouattara rebels first attacked the town last month as they continue to push farther south along the Liberian border into areas that have been under control of the Gbagbo government since a brief civil war in 2002.

Violence also continues in the commercial capital Abidjan, where pro-Ouattara militia now control much of the neighborhood of Abobo. Those fighters are led by a man who calls himself Colonel Bauer, who said Gbagbo is blocking democracy.

Bauer said that since Gbagbo came to power, peace has slipped farther and farther away from the Ivorian people, so that is why they are fighting.

November's presidential election was meant to reunite the country. But the dispute over who won has led to more violence. The United Nations certified results announced by the electoral commission that show Ouattara as the winner. Gbagbo said he was re-elected when the Constitutional Council nullified nearly 10 percent of the ballots cast, proclaiming them fraudulent.

Gbagbo supporters say they are defending a vote that rebels are trying to steal with the help of the United Nations and France. Gbagbo youth leader Charles Ble Goude said Gbagbo supporters are determined to resolve the political crisis peacefully.

Goude said Gbagbo supporters who take to the streets unarmed are not violent people. He said the assassins and murders in Abidjan are Ouattara supporters, who kill people right in front of United Nations peacekeepers.

Human Rights Watch said pro-Gbagbo militia and soldiers are engaged in a campaign of violence against Ouattara supporters that may constitute war crimes.

African Union efforts to resolve the dispute appear to have stalled over Ouattara's refusal to accept a former foreign minister from Cape Verde, who Ouattara said is too close to Gbagbo to serve as a neutral mediator.

Ouattara said he was surprised by the choice of former foreign minister Jose Brito and deeply regrets not being consulted about the decision. Gbagbo's government accepts the African Union appointment and said Ouattara is looking for a partisan referee.