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Heavy Machine Gun Fire Reported in Daloa, Ivory Coast - 2002-10-15

In Ivory Coast, heavy fighting between government troops and rebels has reportedly erupted again in the country's third-largest city, Daloa. The gun battle follows earlier reports that loyalist forces had recaptured the city, two days after the rebels seized it.

Earlier on Tuesday, the government declared victory in Daloa, saying it had, using the government's word, liberated it from rebel occupation. But by mid-day it was still unclear if they had full control of the city's center. Heavy machine gun fire were reported in the city of 160,000 people.

Daloa residents also say they have also seen several armored personnel carriers, believed to be Angolan, accompanying loyalist soldiers.

On Monday, angry rebel leaders suspended cease-fire talks and reissued their demand for the resignation of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. They say they had received credible reports that Angolan vehicles, equipment, and possibly troops had arrived in Abidjan to support loyalist forces. The rebels say they will not engage in any further talks until the Angolans leave Ivory Coast.

In Daloa, an eyewitness who identifies himself as Ben, says he is certain that foreign troops are in town. Ben points out the men are definitely not Ivorians. He adds there are many foreign soldiers, moving around the city in several army trucks.

Shortly after the uprising on September 19, the Angolan government denied rumors that it was providing President Gbagbo with military support. Since then, Luanda has refused any comment on the widely reported military intervention.

The Ivorian leader also denies the presence of Angolan troops in the country. But he admits he has recently received equipment to bolster the army's fighting capability. He says he is determined to end the uprising by the end of this week, saying it will happen either by signing a peace treaty or by waging a full-scale war.

The renegade soldiers who call themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast still control the northern and central parts of Ivory Coast. But the loss of Daloa, about 400 kilometers northwest of the main coastal city of Abidjan, is a major setback for the rebels. Their aim is to advance to Abidjan and overthrow Mr. Gbagbo's government, which they say is illegitimate.

Daloa lies on the edge of the country's cocoa belt and there has been increasing concern that fighting in the area would disrupt this year's harvest. Ivory Coast is the world's biggest cocoa producer.