ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast (search) soldiers battled rebel forces as warplanes launched more bombing raids Friday, escalating hostilities a day after the government abandoned a cease-fire meant to end a civil war that killed thousands of people.
A "skirmish" between government and rebel forces occurred near the town of Raviar, about 20 miles south of the rebel stronghold of Bouake, said U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux.
"We are waiting to see how many combatants were involved and exactly what happened," Moreux said.
There was no immediate word on casualties in the clashes, which came a day after government warplanes bombed Bouake, breaking the 2003 cease-fire. The jets ran five bombing runs there, destroying rebel headquarters and ruining other buildings, including homes and businesses.
Raviar is in a buffer zone meant to divide forces of the rebel-controlled north and government-controlled south. The zone is patrolled by some of the more than 10,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers deployed in the West African country.
Rebels also said there were new air attacks Friday by government warplanes, saying two bombed the rebel-held town of Vavoua and strafed it with machine-gun fire.
The target in the town west of Bouake was not clear, said rebel commander Yeo, who only gave his first name.
Bouake residents cowered in darkened homes Friday, fearing more onslaughts as government warplanes flew overhead. With water and electricity cut, families ventured out to draw water from wells.
Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie of France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, called the situation "extremely worrying" and urged the United Nations (search) to "give all lawful means" to help peacekeepers here restore order. Alliot-Marie, speaking to France Inter radio in Paris, confirmed Friday's bombing raids.
On Thursday, at least 39 people — including 14 civilians — were gravely injured in air attacks, said Antoine Foucher, spokesman for the French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (search), or Doctors Without Borders. The group said it was sure others were killed, but it could not say how many.
The government also bombed another rebel-held city, Korhogo, on Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (search) said. Civilians were believed to be among the casualties, the group said.
The U.N. Security Council, fearing a return to a full-scale war that would threaten its peace efforts across the region, called the attacks "grave" and "worrying" after an emergency meeting late Thursday.
The world body suspended all humanitarian work in Ivory Coast after fighting resumed and condemned what it called "major" violations of the cease-fire.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, has been split since a September 2002 coup attempt triggered a civil war. A 2003 peace deal, brokered under pressure from France and others, ended major fighting. But a power-sharing deal failed to take hold, and distrust and ethnic, regional and political hatreds continue to run strong.
Ivory Coast's government showed no sign Thursday of backing down.
"Stand up, with everyone behind us, and let us liberate the country," Army chief of staff Gen. Matthias Doue assured a loyalist throng of 3,000 in the commercial capital, Abidjan.
"Liberate Bouake!" mobs answered.
Loyalist mobs elsewhere in Abidjan attacked unarmed U.N. personnel and burned two of their vehicles, Human Rights Watch said.
Crowds also burned the offices of at least three opposition newspapers and the headquarters of the opposition Rally of the Republicans party, witnesses said.
The state-owned daily Fraternite Matin newspaper said electricity to the north was cut and telephone lines were down.