--Liberians Reportedly Involved
Ivorian Government troops regained control of a village on its southwestern border with Liberia on Friday after gunmen reportedly seized it in an attack that killed 13 people, Ivory Coast Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said.
About 40 men reportedly attacked and looted the village of Fetai, located on the Cavally River separating Ivory Coast and Liberia, early on Thursday, Mr. Koffi Koffi told reporters in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital.
The Ivorian military launched a counterattack early on Friday to drive the gunmen out of the village.
"There was an ambush that killed three soldiers... ten were killed among the civilian population. We're carrying out clean-up operations in the forest and we've gone all the way to the Cavally River ... the situation is under control," the Defense Minister said.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, is recovering from a decade-long political crisis that culminated in a brief 2011 civil war after former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his election defeat to Alassane Ouattara.
Reports say gunmen from Liberia have staged several assaults on towns near the border in recent years that the government and United Nations have blamed on Liberian mercenaries and Gbagbo allies. Fetai was last attacked in February.
"This isn't an attack like the other times ... These are the youths from the region. They are bandits," Koffi Koffi said, rejecting the idea that the raid was politically motivated.
However, local residents said the fighters were armed with heavy weapons and the parliamentarian for the area said they had launched their raid from across the border in Liberia.
"These were Ivorian militia based in Liberia," MP Yaya Coulibaly told Reuters by telephone from Grabo, a town 10 kilometer (about six miles) from Fetai.
"Some of the villagers were taken hostage by them. They said their accents were Ivorian. A few of them even recognized the faces of some of the attackers," he said.
Coulibaly said he knew of seven villagers who had been killed in the attack in addition to the three soldiers. None of the raiders were killed in the army's counter-attack, he said, adding that some 2,500 people had fled to Grabo from outlying villages for safety.
Koffi Koffi estimated that around 500 people had been displaced by the clashes.
Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for suspected crimes against humanity during the 2011 war, in which around 3,000 people died. Some 220,000 Ivorians fled into Liberia during the post-election conflict and around 46,000 among them former pro-Gbagbo militia fighters remained there, according to the United Nations' refugee agency.
A U.N. panel of experts charged with monitoring Ivory Coast's arms embargo wrote in a report last month that despite a general improvement in security in the country, Liberia-based fighters remained a threat.
"The structure and military capacity (in terms of combatants, weapons and related materiel) of the mercenaries in Liberia and the Ivorian militia remain highly operational," the report said.
The United Nations is gradually reducing its peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast as it faces new crises in the region, notably in Mali and Central African Republic.
Ivory Coast asked the United Nations to consider deploying drones along its border with Liberia to offset the planned peacekeeper draw-down. However their deployment has been put on hold due to improved security, the world body said.