SHAFAQNA – Unidentified gunmen crossed over from Liberia and launched a pre-dawn attack on an army base in western Ivory Coast on Saturday, killing at least two soldiers, a local member of parliament said.The assault on the town of Grabo, near the top cocoa grower’s western border, was the third deadly raid in the area in less than a year. Ivory Coast’s government has blamed previous attacks on supporters of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo based in Liberia.
Grabo’s parliament representative Yaya Coulibaly said gunfire erupted around 3 am (10 p.m. ET) and an exchange of fire between the assailants and Ivorian soldiers lasted over an hour.
“They attacked the military base. As always, they came from Liberia,” he said. “Two (soldiers) were killed, that’s confirmed, and possibly one of the attackers as well. But this is only a provisional death toll.”
The army repelled the attack and was carrying out clean-up operations in the area later on Saturday, he said. Defense ministry and army officials were not immediately available for comment.
Ivory Coast is recovering from a decade-long political crisis that ended in a brief 2011 civil war sparked by Gbagbo’s refusal to admit defeat in a presidential run-off election in late 2010.
Under President Alassane Ouattara, the country – French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy – is emerging as a new darling of frontier investors drawn by its rapid economic growth and largely untapped potential.
Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, in which around 3,000 people died. Some 220,000 Ivorians fled into Liberia during the post-election conflict and tens of thousands – among them former pro-Gbagbo militia fighters – remain there.
A U.N. panel of experts charged with monitoring Ivory Coast’s arms embargo, imposed in 2004, has written that despite a general improvement in security in the country, Liberia-based fighters remained a threat.
A small group of men was arrested recently near Tabou, another town along the border with Liberia. Ivorian officials said they were caught with a small arsenal of weapons and were planning a series of attacks before they were denounced by local villagers.