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Loyalist Troops Try to Regain Control of Ivorian City of Man - 2002-12-03

Thousands of people are fleeing western Ivory Coast as loyalist troops battle to regain control of areas captured by rebel forces last week.

Sporadic gunfire continued in the western city of Man, despite claims by the Ivory Coast government that loyalists had retaken full control of the city.

Rebels with newly formed insurgent factions captured Man and the city of Danane near the Liberian border last week.

Refugees leaving Man said rebels continued to patrol the streets and were in some cases preventing residents from leaving the city. Many of those fleeing were heading to Liberia, where the government announced it had closed the border to normal traffic. Liberian officials, however, said they would allow refugees to cross.

The rebels responsible for the latest attacks in western Ivory Coast are from different factions than those who launched a rebellion on September 19. The original group, known as the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, is made up largely of northerners and continues to hold the center and north of the country. Leaders have been in peace negotiations with the government since the end of October.

The new rebel factions are made up of ethnic Yacoubas from the country's west. The groups say they want to avenge the killing of former military ruler General Robert Guei, who was executed along with members of his family on the first day of the rebellion in September.

Diplomatic efforts to end the two-and-one-half-month rebel crisis, are stepping up as Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo traveled to neighboring Mali to meet with the president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore.

Relations between Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso have been strained since the insurrection began, with the Gbagbo government accusing Burkina Faso of supporting the rebels.

Burkina Faso, which maintains close ties to Libya and has a long history of supporting rebel movements in Liberia and Sierra Leone, denies the accusation.