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Ivory Coast Army, Rebels Battle for Control of Daloa - 2002-10-16

Ivory Coast's besieged city of Daloa is still in turmoil, as government troops and rebel forces battle for control of various neighborhoods. Large numbers of people are leaving the city, following four days of heavy fighting.

Reports early Wednesday from Daloa indicated that the government was consolidating its hold on the country's third-largest city, which it re-captured from the rebels on Tuesday. Witnesses said they saw anti-riot police and security forces conducting house-to-house searches, hunting for rebel soldiers.

But by midday, some Daloa residents were reporting the exact opposite. One eyewitness, who only identifies himself as Mory, told VOA that it was the rebels who were searching for government security forces.

Mory says he has watched rebels patrolling the streets in cars. He says they are all carrying heavy weapons.

The government of President Laurent Gbagbo insists his forces are still in full control of Daloa, which has a strategic and symbolic importance for both sides. Many members of Mr. Gbagbo's southern-based Bete tribe live on one side of town. The other side is home to the predominantly, northern Dioulas, the ethnic group of most of the rebels.

Fearing a bloody clash, many residents are reported to be leaving the city of 160,000. The exodus from Daloa is threatening to add to the humanitarian crisis caused by the displacement of an estimated 200,000 from the rebel-controlled city of Bouake.

Despite the fighting, West African mediators say they have not given up on efforts to revive stalled ceasefire talks. On Wednesday, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade expressed optimism that a deal could be signed as early as Thursday, despite rebel insistence that they will not lay down their arms until President Gbagbo resigned.

The rebels suspended the talks on Monday, following reports that Angola was supporting government forces with equipment and possibly troops. Angola denies the report.

The crisis in Ivory Coast began September 19, when renegade soldiers mutinied against the government. The fighting has killed hundreds and has raised fear of ethnic violence and regional instability.