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Wed Jul 30 00:55:14 SAST 2014

Rebels wonder; where did Gbagbo go?

Sapa | 01 April, 2011 14:330 Comments
Supporters of Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara listen as Ouattara's prime minister Guillaume Soro addresses a rally in the provincial capital Yamoussoukro.
Image by: STR

Ivory Coast rebels appear poised to oust President Laurent Gbagbo amid heavy fighting, following a lightning assault through the country and an attack on the economic capital Abidjan.

There was mystery over the whereabouts of Gbagbo. Reports that rebels had seized Gbagbo's residence could not be confirmed as attempts to contact members of Gbagbo's inner circle were unsuccessful.

France's ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Jean-Marc Simon, was quoted by France 24 as saying that Gbagbo was not in his residence, but was probably in the presidential palace.

Witnesses said Gbagbo's Republican Guard and northern rebels New Forces, which control the north of the country, backed by other military and operating under the new name Republican Forces of Cote D'Ivoire (FRCI), were exchanging shells and gunfire in the Cocody district, near Gbagbo's home.

However, many of Gbagbo's troops appeared to have deserted.

A military source, who asked not to be named, said: "The gendarmerie and estimated number of 50,000 soldiers have abandoned their positions. Only the pro-Gbagbo Republican Guard and armed students, around 2,000 combatants, are still fighting to defend Gbagbo's residence".

As the fighting continued, some 500 foreign nationals took refuge at a French peacekeeping base in the city.

Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the armed forces, told the German Press Agency dpa that the group consisted mainly of French and Lebanese nationals living in the city's Zone IV, where many expatriates live.

The group took shelter at the French base of Port Bouet, near the airport.

"Some made their way there by themselves. Others who didn't have any means of getting there were evacuated by Licorne forces," Burkhard said.

French troops stationed in Ivory Coast under Operation Licorne (Unicorn) are patrolling Zone IV and other parts of the city to protect foreign nationals and prevent looting.

Ivory Coast was plunged into unrest when Gbagbo refused to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara after November elections the United Nations says the president lost. However, serious military action by the rebel forces backing Ouattara only got underway in recent weeks after mediation efforts and sanctions failed to budge Gbagbo.

FRCI forces have already overrun Yamoussoukro, the nation's political capital and the city of San Pedro, the world's largest cocoa-exporting port.

Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Ouattara, said that the rebels have seized control of the state-run RTI, which had been broadcasting pro-Gbagbo propaganda. Outtara's government-in-waiting has also ordered the closure of all borders. RTI stopped broadcasting at 2245 GMT.

However, Achi said he did not believe Gbagbo had fled.

"(Gbagbo) hasn't shown any signs of giving up," he said. "I don't think he will see the game is up, because he really believes God will save him ... Gbagbo is in his house. I'm certain."

Gbagbo has been abandoned by many of his close collaborators, who have sought refuge in foreign embassies in Abidjan. General Philippe Mangou, his chief of staff, is staying at the South African embassy with his family now, sources said.

In the meantime, many army generals have joined Ouattara.

"To those of you who are still hesitating - whether you are generals, officers or soldiers, I ask you to rejoin lawfulness, there is still time to join your brothers in arms, your country calls you," Ouattara said in a statement.

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