Gunfire erupted Monday in the central Ivory Coast city of Bouake, where rebels have been bracing for a battle with loyalist troops following an attempted coup last week in the West African country.
The gunfire erupted after nightfall Monday in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second largest city, where residents and dissident soldiers have been bracing for an attack by troops loyal to the government.
It is not clear where the gunfire was coming from. Some residents told VOA it appeared to be rebels alone who were firing. State radio reports said loyalist troops had battled with rebels on the outskirts of Bouake.
Mutinous soldiers have been holding Bouake and Korhogo in the north since Thursday when a mutiny, described by the government as a coup attempt, broke out in the two cities and in Abidjan. The fighting killed at least 270 people before loyalist troops brought Abidjan under government control.
The rebels, who have vowed to push their way south to Abidjan, on Monday said they had taken the town of Tebissou, about 70 kilometers south of Bouake near the political capital of Yamoussoukro. A town official in Tebissou confirmed the rebels' claim.
The reports of gunfire in regions north of Abidjan came as people in Ivory Coast, once seen as a model of stability in West Africa, spoke of what many fear could be the onset of a larger conflict.
French troops, who were deployed in recent days, camped outside Yamoussoukro where they monitored the situation in Bouake 100 kilometers away. The troops are in the region to protect hundreds of French nationals who live in Bouake.
More than 100 American children and staff at an missionary boarding school are among those caught in Bouake. U.S. officials say the Americans are safe and have adequate supplies.
The dispute that sparked the ongoing violence in Ivory Coast began when members of the armed forces protested the government's plans to demobilize hundreds of soldiers.
The rebels have said they are willing to negotiate with the government if a third party intervenes. Rebel spokesmen on Monday said they had sent a list of their demands to the French embassy in Abidjan.
Western diplomats have also been advising the government to open a dialogue with the dissidents.