Ivory Coast leaders are due to attend peace talks on Sunday called by South African President Thabo Mbeki as warnings abound that Ivory Coast is headed back to war.
A May 2003 cease-fire has been repeatedly violated, and there are growing doubts the country can hold planned presidential elections in October.
Rebel commander Tuo Fozie, speaking from his northern stronghold of Bouake, said this week that President Laurent Gbagbo was reinforcing his troops and readying for more combat.
Gbagbo is always playing games that hinder the peace process,Â” Fozie said. Â“We will not allow any part of the Ivorian territory to be attacked.Â”
He claimed the government had a combat plane on the ready in neighbouring Guinea.
UN peacekeepers say they have seen a buildup of armed men and munitions in western government-held towns along a buffer zone that they patrol. They did not know if the fighters were soldiers or militiamen.
Those reports were underscored yesterday by Human Rights Watch, which said Ivorian soldiers were recruiting hundreds of recently demobilised fighters in neighbouring Liberia to fight with the pro-government Lima Militia around three western Ivorian cocoa-belt towns.
The New York-based organisation said in a report that interviews with recruited child soldiers and ex-commanders indicated recruitment had intensified in March.
Ivorian armed forces spokesman Jules Yao Yao said he had not heard of such recruiting but, Â“if there are people who are acting independently (to recruit), that is their problem.Â”
The rumbles of warlike noises have brought numerous warnings recently about Ivory Coast, the worlds largest cocoa producer, which was stable for decades until a 2002 coup attempt plunged the country into civil war.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Ivory Coast may Â“spin out of controlÂ” unless armed militias are reined in. He said rebels and militias have not started disarming, and instead militia-type groups were mobilising across the nation.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said more violence could precipitate Â“large-scale ethnic cleansingÂ” and draw neighbouring Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso into a regional conflict.