French ground troops have joined fighting in the centre of Abidjan as fears grow for the plight of civilians in Ivory Coast’s violent power struggle.
Heavy weaponry and automatic gunfire has echoed around areas that are strongholds of besieged leader Laurent Gbagbo. He remains bunkered down despite the efforts of forces loyal to internationally-recognised president Alassane Ouattara. French tanks, backed by helicopter gunships, have been moving in on Gbagbo’s residence. It is the first time in the conflict that ground troops have entered Ivory Coast’s main city.
Overnight French and UN helicopters attacked Gbagbo’s forces, damaging the presidential residence. They also targeted heavy weapons that UN chief Ban Ki-moon had ordered destroyed. He has accused Gbagbo’s army of using them against civilians and his peacekeepers.
One man said Gbagbo’s troops demanded to know where people were from – and if they were not from his clan, they were executed.
The humanitarian co-ordinator between the UN and NGOs said people were fleeing from one district to the next. No district was secure and many bodies have been reported in the streets, he added.
France has said its forces’ latest intervention followed a specific request by the UN.