ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – Rebel fighters clashed with government troops, and warplanes struck rebel positions in the north Friday, escalating hostilities a day after army hard-liners broke a cease-fire and relaunched Ivory Coast’s civil war after more than a year of relative peace.

With scores of civilians injured and an unknown number killed, regional gains toward peace were again in the balance, with international leaders appealing for restraint.

In Abidjan, the nation’s largest city, residents stocked up on food supplies, fearing a possible rebel counteroffensive.

“Everybody is afraid,” said Bakary Biaye, a doctor, as mobs of anti-rebel youth swarmed around his house, demonstrating in favor of the army’s offensive.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie called the situation “extremely worrying” and urged the United Nations to “give all lawful means” to help peacekeepers here restore order.

After a day of surprise bombing runs destroyed the rebel headquarters in Bouake on Thursday, U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux reported the first skirmish between rebel and government ground troops Friday near the town of Raviar, about 20 miles south of Bouake.

Few details were available. The town is in the middle of a vast buffer zone that stretches across the country, separating combatants from the rebel-held north and government south. The buffer zone is patrolled by members of a 10,200-strong U.N. and French peacekeeping force.

Rebels claimed government warplanes launched fresh attacks west of Bouake with two aircraft, striking rebel-held Vavoua with machine gunfire and dropping explosives. The target was not clear, said Yeo, a rebel commander, who would give only his first name.

A pair of Russian-built Sukhoi fighter jets also pounded the rebel town of Seguela with rockets, targeting a checkpoint there, said Henry Aussavy, a spokesman for French peacekeepers.

So far, the rebels have waged no major counteroffensive, but nervous residents in Abidjan were anticipating one.

“We don’t know if the rebels have infiltrated,” said one resident, Laurent, who refused to give his last name. “Maybe they’re already in Abidjan … we’re ready for anything.” He said he had told his family to stay at home.

Residents of Bouake hid in darkened homes, fearing more onslaughts as government warplanes flew overhead. With water and electricity cut, families ventured out to draw water from wells. Several buildings in the town, including civilian homes and businesses were in ruins.

Air raids Thursday in Bouake wounded 39 people, including 14 civilians, said Antoine Foucher, spokesman for the French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres. The group said it had been told of deaths but could not give a number.

The U.N. Security Council, fearing a return to 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 United Nations suspended all humanitarian work in Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer and West Africa’s former economic powerhouse, has been split into rebel north and government south since a September 2002 coup attempt launched the country into civil war.

The civil war killed thousands and forced more than a million people from their homes. A 2003 peace deal ended major fighting. But power-sharing failed to take hold.



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