Ivory Coast closes frontier with Ghana over border attack

ABIDJAN Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:39pm BST

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast closed its border with Ghana on Friday after at least 10 people were killed in attacks on its army and police launched from Ghanaian territory, the country's interior minister said.

The attacks, in the commercial capital Abidjan late on Thursday and on a border town early on Friday, were the first since August, when near-daily raids on security forces revived fears of renewed instability a year after a brief civil war killed more than 3,000 people.

"Land, air and sea borders are closed until further notice," minister Hamed Bakayoko told Reuters.

"This was organised, ordered, and executed from Ghanaian territory, and the Ghanaian authorities know who these people are," he said.

Gunfire erupted at 3 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Friday in the town of Noe, home to a border crossing between Ivory Coast and eastern neighbour Ghana.

"There was an attempted attack against the army deployed at the border," Guillaume Soro, president of Ivory Coast's parliament, wrote on Twitter.

"The attack occurred in Noe and the target was the army barracks. The attack was successfully repelled," he said.

Seven attackers were killed by Ivorian forces during a gunbattle that lasted an hour and a half, said a senior army officer who asked not to be named. One government soldier was also wounded in the clash.

"The soldiers and police explained that they were attacked by fighters who wanted to seize the border post," said one town resident, who asked not to be named.

"Lots of soldiers have arrived to reinforce. They are patrolling all along the border and searching along the river separating Ivory Coast and Ghana," he added.

ATTACKS ON POLICE

The government has accused supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo of organising last month's raids.

Accusations that Gbagbo allies living in exile in Ghana were involved in planning the violence led the country's President John Dramani Mahama to declare that Ghanaian territory would not be used as a base for operations to destabilise its neighbour.

Earlier this week Ghanaian police said they had arrested three men, including a former Ivorian soldier, for trying to buy arms for a planned coup in Ivory Coast.

The ex-president's political party, several of whose leading members were arrested last month, has denied involvement in the violence and accuses the government of using the violence as a pretext for a crackdown on the opposition.

The attack on the border came hours after gunmen tried to seize weapons from two police stations and a gendarmerie in the Port Bouet and Vridi neighbourhoods near Abidjan's airport.

"A bystander was killed by a stray bullet. A passing soldier also lost his life. And one of the attackers was killed ... All the weapons they took have been recovered," Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi told journalists.

Gbagbo was captured during last year's war, which broke out after he refused to accept defeat in a presidential election in late 2010. He is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court, charged with crimes against humanity.

Most of his top political and military allies are either in jail in Ivory Coast or in exile, mainly in west African countries.

Ghana arrested Gbagbo's budget minister Justin Kone Katinan last month on one of around two dozen international arrest warrants against the ex-president's inner circle issued by Ivory Coast last year. The Ivorian government is seeking his extradition.

(Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Andrew Roche)

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