The Ivory Coast’s defiant president Laurent Gbagbo regains ground in Abidjan, as UN human rights workers find more than 100 bodies in 24 hours.
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Mr Gbagbo’s troops used peace talks as a ruse to strengthen their position.
During Tuesday’s lull in fighting Mr Gbagbo’s forces regained terrain, he said, and now have full control of the Plateau and Cocody area.
French officials meanwhile said the president’s forces had fired at the French ambassador’s home, prompting counter-strikes from the Ivory Coast’s former colonial power.
Mr Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power to Mr Ouattara despite UN certified results showing he lost a November election, remains isolated in the bunker under his residence in Abidjan where he has sought refuge from a concerted assault by Mr Ouattara’s troops.
Only three days ago, his defeat had appeared imminent and talks took place between the two sides. Mr Le Roy said on Friday fighting was still going on but there was a stalemate.
“We have seen heavy weapons to be transferred to the Cocody area, including this morning,” he said.
Mr Gbagbo’s adviser Toussaint Alain disputed the statement, saying French strikes, which were mandated by the UN, had destroyed all of Mr Gbagbo’s heavy weapons earlier in the week. He also denied the French ambassador’s residence had been attacked.
“France is just looking for a pretext to get rid of President Laurent Gbagbo,” Mr Alain told Reuters.
Mr Gbagbo’s revived fortunes were highlighted by his RTI television channel. Silent since the fighting broke out in Abidjan earlier this week, it came back on air broadcasting an appeal for support.
“The regime of Gbagbo is still in place, a strong mobilisation is required by the population,” it said.
Mr Gbagbo, who has ruled Ivory Coast since 2000, is defended by around 1,000 men – his presidential guard and youth militiamen, but Mr Ouattara’s allies say he has also armed civilians.
Mr Ouattara has based himself in the Golf Hotel since the November 28, 2010 election, which was meant to draw a line under a 2002-2003 civil war which split the world’s top cocoa producer in two.
Mr Le Roy said Mr Gbagbo’s forces were edging towards the building, which has been under UN guard. “While we speak they may be very close to the Golf Hotel,” he said.
French helicopters struck Mr Gbagbo’s compound in the early evening, hours after an attack by Mr Gbagbo’s forces on the nearby residence of the French envoy, witnesses said.
Frederick Daguillon, spokesman for the French force in Ivory Coast said mortars fired by Mr Gbagbo’s fighters had landed within the boundaries of the residence but had done no damage.
Residents in Cocody said later the situation was now quiet.
Mr Ouattara’s ability to unify the West African state may undermined by reports of atrocities since his forces – a collection of former rebels from the north – swept south into Abidjan more than a week ago.
The United Nations human rights office said on Friday it had found 115 corpses in the west in the past 24 hours, adding to the 800 dead reported by aid groups last week.
Some of the victims were burnt alive and others thrown into wells, in a chilling reminder of the ethnic and religious divisions gripping the country – and mirroring the divide between Mr Gbagbo, whose traditional powerbase is in the Christian south, and Mr Ouattara’s Muslim, northern-based forces.
Mr Ouattara’s forces have denied carrying out massacres. But human rights groups say there is evidence that while Mr Gbagbo’s forces committed the bulk of the atrocities since the stand-off began four months ago, Mr Ouattara’s soldiers are also to blame for indiscriminate violence against civilians.
As more killings come to light, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the series of vicious attacks on civilians. “The reports that the UN human rights team in Côte d’Ivoire are sending back are utterly horrifying,” she said. “They are finding more bodies every day.”
Aid workers estimate 1 million people have been displaced by the fighting, and some 150,000 people have fled the country.