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Ivory Coast Rebels Brace for Attack

Rebels in the north of Ivory Coast are bracing for what they say is an imminent attack by forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo. The country, divided by civil war since 2002, is tense after a recent flare-up in fighting.

A spokesman for Ivory Coast's New Forces Rebels, Soul Tossoul, said government troops are mobilizing in the west, and he is afraid of new advances on rebel positions. He says militias loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo are responsible for the recent attack against rebels in the west of the country near the town of Logouale, which took place at the end of February.

Mr. Toussoul said rebel forces did not respond to militia attacks, but the recent fighting had placed rebels on alert and they would be ready to defend their people.

In a statement, rebels said that if attacked again they will not limit their actions to self defense. They said the recent attack was a prelude to a resumption of hostilities.

The recent attack took place across the buffer zone which splits the rebel held north from the government south, and is patrolled by United Nations and French troops.

Seri Bahy, an advisor to the Ivorian president, denied that Mr. Gbagbo had instigated the attack.

"He has no intention of responding to what the rebels are saying , and he has no intention of resuming any war whatsoever," he said.

Mr. Bahy said that the government is still committed to peace talks under the mediation of South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Immediately after the fighting near Logouale, the rebels said in a statement that mediation efforts were over. Rebels have repeatedly said they are not impressed with Mr. Mbeki's efforts to resolve the crisis.

The United Nations spokesman, Amadou Toure says that both rebels and the government are still participating in discussions which are the only way of resolving the crisis.

"It is not enough to patrol, it is not enough to deploy troops if you don't have the backing of the parties," he said. "That's why we are calling on them to avoid any action that could lead to a deterioration of the situation."

Mr. Toure says that after the attack, the United Nations has increased patrols in the west. The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has requested 1200 more troops to bolster its mandate, but the Security Council has not yet approved the decision.

Humanitarian workers say that thousands of people have been displaced by the recent fighting in Logouale.

A United Nations spokesperson said that people in the confidence zone and rebel held territory had crowded into the towns of Duekoue and Guiglo. He said that tensions in the area are making it difficult to reach people who need help.