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Ivory Coast exodus from fighting

Residents are fleeing their homes in a bid to avoid the fighting
Residents are fleeing their homes in a bid to avoid the fighting

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BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Innocent bystanders caught up in the crossfire between government and rebel forces in Ivory Coast have taken advantage of a lull in the fighting to flee one of the main trouble spots.

Scores of people used the window of opportunity on Thursday to leave the rebel-held city of Bouake amid fears of further troubles.

"We are taking advantage of a lull in the fighting," one man told Reuters. "We are leaving because we have no security and we have no food."

Another woman said: "I've been told it's not over yet. I don't want to take any risks."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said up to 150,000 people have fled Bouake since the fighting started on September 19.

The U.N. World Food Program said it was preparing for massive movements of people within a region already burdened by hundreds of thousands of refugees from wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"We have to get ready for a large-scale humanitarian assistance," said regional spokesman Ramin Rafirasme.

The exodus came as tentative attempts were being made to broker another ceasefire.

West African efforts to broker peace two weeks ago collapsed after President Laurent Gbagbo turned his back on a ceasefire.

Since then the rebels have hardened their attitude.

"We don't want to negotiate with Gbagbo, we want him to resign," said Cherif Ousmane, a rebel commander in Bouake.

"Our objective is Abidjan and then we'll organise free and fair elections and leave the scene."

Senegal Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio has arrived in Ivory Coast on a new peace mission.

Other West African officials were due at the weekend.

"We will stay until we get some agreement on all sides to stop fighting and to start discussing the substantive issues," said chief mediator Mohammed ibn Chambas.

Gbagbo had called for talks with the rebels, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, though only if they disarmed first.



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