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Ivory Coast Government Troops and Rebels Fight Near Liberian Border

People stand next to stores set on fire during clashes between supporters of Alassane Dramane Ouattara and soldiers of the FDS, loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, in the Attecoube neighborhood, in Abidjan, February 24, 2011.

Ivory Coast is moving closer to a return to civil war with rebels claiming to have captured new territory in the west and supporters of the incumbent president calling for attacks against foreigners and U.N. peacekeepers.

Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo's youth leader says Gbagbo supporters should chase foreigners from their neighborhoods and block the movement of United Nations peacekeepers who he says are backing rebels allied with the U.N.-certified winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo youth leader Charles Ble Goude says Ivory Coast's political crisis is now reaching a critical stage and it is time for what he calls "real Ivorians" to protect the country from foreign interference and U.N. peacekeepers who he says are waging war on behalf of rebels.

Rebels say they have captured two towns near the Liberian border that were previously part of a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and areas controlled by the pro-Gbagbo military.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says fighting in the west coupled with clashes in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, and continued fighting in the commercial capital, Abidjan, are a disturbing escalation of the political crisis that is drawing the country closer to re-igniting civil war.

Ibrahim Wani, who heads the Africa branch of the U.N. human rights office, says there is serious concern about the recruitment of young militants as a force for further violence.

"So long as this stalemate continues and the arming goes on, we have had an intensification of inter-communal violence. I am afraid that the situation of protection of civilians does not look good at all," he said.

The United Nations says at least 315 people have been killed since the release of election results in early December. Wani says the human rights situation has deteriorated in areas held by both Gbago and Ouattara supporters.

"Most of the human rights violations, the most serious that have been reported, have been committed by the security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo mostly in the Abidjan area," he said. "Nonetheless, there have been some human rights violations in the northern and western parts as well including reports of rape that have taken place in the western part in relation to some inter-communal violence."

Gbagbo's government says a U.N. peacekeeper shot and killed an Ivorian police officer Friday during the handover of pro-Gbagbo protesters who had been arrested earlier in the day. A spokesman for the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast says no one was killed in the prisoner exchange, but peacekeepers did fire their weapons in the air to disperse a pro-Gbagbo crowd.