- Title: IVORY COAST: Thousands flee fighting in Abidjan
- Date: 30th March 2011
- Summary: MORE OF PEOPLE WITH LUGGAGE
- Embargoed: 14th April 2011 13:00
- Location: Cote d'Ivoire
- Country: Ivory Coast
- Topics: War / Fighting
- Reuters ID: LVA2Q6O6PE3N7MW3VMYC9KGQXRVF
- Story Text: Thousands of West African nationals continued to flee Abidjan on Tuesday (March 29). Ivorian State television has been whipping up hatred by accusing West African foreigners of being behind the rebellion.
Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara seized two towns in the heart of the western cocoa belt overnight, in an offensive that may enable them to move towards a major port.
Witnesses and fighters from both sides said on Tuesday that the former rebels, who have controlled northern Ivory Coast since the civil war of 2002-3, had seized Daloa from incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo's troops.
The violent stand-off has led to 462 confirmed deaths, according to the United Nations, which is also investigating allegations that 200 African nationals -- from Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea and Togo -- were killed near Guiglo, 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Duekoue.
For the last three years, Nigerian national Issa Dayabou has been earning his living in Ivory Coast by selling smoked fish.
He now says he's too afraid to stay in Abidjan any longer.
"We can't work anymore, it's not working anymore - it's been a month I have made nothing. I couldn't work. I can't stay because in our neighbourhood, it's all empty. We live in Williamsville, in Makasi, and there are people who come there, come into our courtyards, rape the women, hit the men, and if you put up a fight, they kill you," Dayabou said.
A violent dispute over last November's presidential election that U.N.-certified results showed Ouattara won, but which Gbagbo refuses to concede, has rekindled the civil war it was meant to settle for good, with heavy fighting in the main city Abidjan and across much of a north-south ceasefire line.
Up to one million Ivorians have now fled fighting in Abidjan alone, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Others have been uprooted across the country and around 100,000 have crossed into Liberia to the west.
The fighting has had a major economic impact, with many people being left unable to earn their living.
"We can't get to work. We are at home and often we can't even leave the house, and even when you do, you are afraid. So we don't know what else to do anymore," said Alidou Oudraogo, a Burkinabe salesman who's lived in Ivory Coast for three years.
The rebels have this week opened up two fresh military fronts, seizing Bondoukou in the east, near the Ghana border, and Daloa in the west, in an escalation of their offensive.
Unlike the last war, when French peacekeepers stepped in at Duekoue to stop the rebels advancing on San Pedro, world powers are this time furious with Gbabgo for torpedoing the peace process by rejecting the election results.
All recognise Ouattara as president and diplomats say they are therefore unlikely to hinder the former rebels' advance.
"I would like to come back to Ivory Coast, and I hope that it will recover, so I can come back, because it's a good country and it is interesting for me. Here I can earn all I can to be able to support my parents," Dayabou said.
Ouattara remains holed up in a lagoon-side Abidjan hotel. Pro-Ouattara forces have already seized four towns in the west and Gbagbo's forces fear that if they capture enough, they will be able to march south to the port of San Pedro, which ships about half Ivory Coast's cocoa crop.
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