Africa

Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo calls for ceasefire

Pro-Ouattara forces in Blolequin, western Ivory Coast, 28 march 2011
Image caption Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara have been making rapid advances

Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has appealed for an immediate ceasefire after advances by forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara.

A spokesman for Mr Gbagbo said the army had adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal but warned it could use its "legitimate right of defence".

In the town of Duekoue, up to 30,000 people took refuge in a church compound to escape the fighting.

Mr Gbagbo refuses to stand down despite the UN saying he lost November's poll.

Some one million people have fled the violence - mostly in Abidjan - and at least 462 people have been killed since December, according to the UN.

"We call for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of talks under the mediation of the African Union high representative. Failing which, we will use our legitimate right of defence," Ahoua Don Mello, Mr Gbagbo's spokesman, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"We have adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal. We hope that dialogue will open very shortly. It is useless to head into conflict and increase the number of victims."

Dual offensive

Mr Don Mello said Mr Gbagbo's camp had received an invitation from the African Union to talks in Addis Ababa on 4-6 April, and saw "no reason to refuse an occasion for dialogue."

He also dismissed accusations by the UN that pro-Gbagbo forces had opened fire on civilians on Monday, killing at least 10 and burning a man to death in Abidjan.

Instead, he accused the UN mission - which has a 9,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country - of "partisan behaviour".

Fighters loyal to Mr Ouattara have been gaining ground in two offensives from their northern bases.

In the west, pro-Ouattara forces are reported to have taken the major town of Daloa town of Duekoue, while in the east, the forces say they have captured the town of Bondoukou.

Daloa is the capital of Ivory Coast's Centre-West region. It is the biggest town to be attacked so far, and opens the way to the cocoa region, the capital Yamoussoukro, and the cocoa-exporting port of San Pedro.

Ivory Coast is the world's largest producer.

Earlier, a missionary told the BBC that some 30,000 people were trapped in the compound of a Roman Catholic mission in Duekoue, in western Ivory Coast.

He said many of those who had sought refuge at the mission were migrants from other West African countries who had been working in the surrounding cocoa plantations.

A UN spokesman told the BBC that "robust patrols" had been deployed to protect the church and those inside.

The pro-Ouattara forces have controlled the north of the country since a 2002 civil war. Pro-Gbagbo troops have lost every battle against them since last November's election, the BBC's John James reports from Ivory Coast.

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