A negotiated outcome in the Ivory Coast crisis appeared further out of reach Tuesday as forces backing the country's internationally-recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, captured several key towns.
In an offensive begun Monday, the fighters have captured Bondoukou and Abengourou in the east, the west-central town of Daloa and the western town of Duekoue. From there, the pro-Ouattara New Forces continued their march south toward Abidjan.
The forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo are still holding Ivory Coast's main city. But the French news agency quotes his spokesman Ahoua Don Mello as saying Tuesday that Mr. Gbagbo's forces are calling for a cease-fire.
The AFP also says Mr. Ouattara has issued a statement saying all the peaceful routes to get Mr. Gbagbo to admit defeat have been exhausted.
Most countries recognize Mr. Ouattara as the winner of a presidential election in November. But Mr. Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power.
The disputed election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast, nearly a decade after a brief civil war left it split into rebel and government-controlled areas. Efforts by the African Union to find a peaceful solution to the post-election crisis have so far failed.
The towns captured by rebels are all located at important crossroads. Daloa sits on the main route to the seaport of San Pedro, which is used to export most of the country's cocoa. Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer.
Also Tuesday, the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has accused pro-Gbagbo forces of opening fire on civilians in the main city of Abidjan Monday, killing 10 of them. The Gbagbo government denied the report.
The United Nations says at least 472 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December. About one million people have been displaced by the fighting.
Amnesty International called on the U.N. peacekeepers Tuesday to protect thousands of displaced people sheltered in a Catholic mission in Duekoue.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.