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Liberia seals Ivorian border after attack

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Liberia has closed a border-crossing with Ivory Coast, but did not confirm a claim by Abidjan that gunmen, who killed seven United Nations peacekeepers along with eight civilians and a soldier, had come from its territory.

Lewis Browne, Liberia's information minister, told reporters in the capital, Monrovia, that investigations were still on-going to determine where the attack came from.

"(But) the first measure will be the immediate closure of the Liberian side of the border with (Ivory Coast)," he said on Saturday.

The Liberian information minister said the president had ordered the immediate deployment of the armed forces to the border in the wake of the attack.

"We must go to the other side of the border to establish a security zone. We will clean up and secure the zone. This will be done, of course, with the agreement of the two countries."

-Paul Koffi Koffi, the Ivory Coast defence minister

Paul Koffi Koffi, the Ivory Coast deputy defence minister, said that the Friday raid in the town of Tai highlighted the need for Ivorian troops to carry out cross-border operations in Liberia to improve security.

"These people came from the other side of the border. They are militias and mercenaries," he said.

"We must go to the other side of the border to establish a security zone. We will clean up and secure the zone. This will be done, of course, with the agreement of the two countries."

Brownie Samukai, the Liberian defence minister, said efforts were being made to prevent the use of Liberia's territory as a launching ground for attacks.

"We all are surprised by the deterioration of the situation in Tai," said Samukai, adding that it was difficult to yet establish the nationalities of those involved.

The UN said it was reshuffling some of its several thousand troops deployed in the zone to protect civilians in the border area. The bodies of its slain Nigerien troops reached Abidjan by late afternoon.

The attack highlights simmering tensions and security threats in the west of the world's top cocoa grower despite a year of progress that stabilised much of the rest of the country after months of post-election violence last year.

Ivory Coast and Liberia have generally had good relations and have in the past carried out joint patrols with UN peacekeepers along their border.

Koffi Koffi said the Ivorian and UN troops were responding to a suspected raid on a village 45 km south of the town of Tai, close to the border, when they were ambushed.

Civilians flee

The UN humanitarian co-ordination office, OCHA, said an old woman was among the eight civilians killed. It said hundreds of civilians from the raided village had arrived in Tai after fleeing the violence.

"We're expecting around 4,000 that are reportedly on their way there," OCHA spokeswoman Anouk Desgroseilliers said.

Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara won a 2010 election but only came to power following months of violence that killed thousands after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede.

New York-based Human Rights Watch warned earlier this week that Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian fighters who fought for Gbagbo in the brief civil war last year were launching attacks on Ivory Coast from Liberia.

The campaigning group said the fighters behind the raids, which have killed 40 people since last July, were receiving funds from supporters of Gbagbo - who is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over his role in the civil war.

Liberia has denied accusations it is not doing enough to prevent the attacks.

After the raid on Friday, the UN Security Council "expressed their deep concern at the prevailing insecurity ... and continued cross-border movements of armed elements, including militias and mercenaries".

Sylvie van den Wildenberg, spokeswoman for the UN mission known by its acronym UNOCI, said on Saturday it was reinforcing its force in the border area.

"We have several thousand troops in the west, and we are reorganising in light of this incident."


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