Outtara's Forces Reach Ivory Coast Capital

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Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to accept the results of November's election. Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the man recognized by the U.N. as the country's new president, have reportedly reached the capital. NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

NEAL CONAN, host:

And there are reports of heavy fighting in Ivory Coast today, almost four months after a presidential election there intended to resolve tensions. Instead the vote sparked a political standoff. Former President Laurent Gbagbo refuses to accept that he lost and refuses to leave office. Now forces loyal to the man the U.N. recognizes as the new president, Alassane Ouattara, have reportedly reached the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been following developments in Ivory Coast and joins us now by phone from Accra in Ghana. And good evening.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings to you all.

CONAN: And can you tell us what's happening in Ivory Coast today?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, it's been a lightning advance by Alassane Ouattara's forces. Now, Alassane Ouattara is a man widely recognized as the president-elect of Ivory Coast.

This week his forces have taken strategic towns in the west of the country. They have also moved with lighting speed to the east of the country, near the Ghana border, the west of the country near Liberia. And now it appears that they are marching towards the world's top cocoa exporting seaport in San-Pedro in the southwest.

And today, most significantly and most dramatically, they have taken, as you have said, Yamoussoukro, which is very symbolic. The main city is Abidjan, and that's where the government gathers. That's also the commercial capital. But Yamoussoukro is the city where the founding father of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphou�t-Boigny, was born, and that's - it's a city that many Ivorians feel for because of the historic ties. It is also only three hours' drive from Abidjan. So Neal, things are moving very fast.

CONAN: And what about the man who will not leave, the former president who insists he's still the president, Laurent Gbagbo? Is he marshalling his forces?

QUIST-ARCTON: Laurent Gbagbo's forces seem to be putting up virtually no resistance from what we can see, in the west, in the east, heading now as Alassane Ouattara's forces are down to the southwest. But I don't think that will be the case in Abidjan.

Abidjan is a regional metropolis. It is the city that Laurent Gbagbo still controls most of it. Ouattara's troops control some part of the city. And if there is a battle for Abidjan, I'm afraid, Neal, it will be a bloody and deadly battle.

The city has been the scene of some vicious fighting over the past two, three weeks. It has been emptied of up to a million of its residents, who have fled the fighting, the sound of gunfire, the sound of shelling, and the fighting between the two rival factions.

Yesterday, Laurent Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, said that it was time for a ceasefire and time for dialogue to be mediated by the newly appointed envoy, sent by the African Union. Well, for a start, Alassane Ouattara's people say that the envoy is too close to Gbagbo, and they have completely ignored that call.

CONAN: And what of those people who have fled not just the capital but the country? Is there a crisis of refugees right now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolute humanitarian crisis. Hundreds - tens of thousands have been crossing into Liberia, across Ivory Coast's western border, because there has been heavy fighting in the West.

I am across the border now in neighboring Ghana. Thousands of Ivorians and residents, not only Ivorians, because of course Ivory Coast is a regional magnet, so people from all over West Africa have settled or lived in Ivory Coast. They are also fleeing. People are fleeing wherever they can, and I think many Ivorians, many residents of Ivory Coast, feel that perhaps the hour has come, and that the civil war that everyone thought that the disputed elections in November would avoid may happen.

CONAN: NPR West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thank you very much, and of course we expect to hear more from you later today.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined us by phone from Ghana, and more on those stories and of course much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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