Abidjan - Four people were killed in an attack on a village in western Ivory Coast not far from the scene of an ambush in which seven UN peacekeepers died last week, local residents and the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Gunmen entered Sieblo-Ouala on Monday night and kept up their raid into Tuesday morning, attacking residents with guns and machetes. The village, near the border with Liberia, is located 12km from the site of Friday's attack, which killed 18, including the UN soldiers from Niger.
"The initial toll we had was three dead and four wounded. Three others were kidnapped, including one who was later killed. So it's four dead," said Sylvie van den Wildenberg, spokesperson for Ivory Coast's UN mission known by its acronym, UNOCI.
Ivory Coast said that last week's attack was carried out by Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian militia who crossed over from Liberia. Monrovia has not confirmed the claim but said it officially closed its eastern border as a security precaution.
The UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in an interview in New York that last week's deadly attack was carried out by at least 80 fighters who overwhelmed some 40 UN peacekeepers who went to help villagers after receiving reports of fighting.
"They were taken by surprise," he said, adding that it was not yet clear whether the attackers came from Liberia.
Ladsous is about to travel to Ivory Coast to visit UN forces there. He confirmed that discussions were under way about a possible joint operation along the border between UN troops and the armies of Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Ivory Coast and Liberia, as well as the UN missions in the two West African neighbours, deployed forces to the border region over the weekend to reinforce security.
Brutal civil war
"They were young Liberians mixed with natives from here. They were singing as they attacked the village. They were sure of themselves," said Karim Sako, a cocoa buyer who helped evacuate three people with machete wounds.
"UNOCI is there. The [Ivorian army] is there. But it is these fighters that control our forests now, and we are afraid to work," he said.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower is gradually recovering from a brief but brutal civil war last year that followed a 2010 election.
The vote was won by Alassane Ouattara but incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede until defeated by French and the UN-backed local forces who supported Ouattara.
Thousands of Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian fighters who fought on behalf of Gbagbo fled across the border following his capture in April. The former president is now in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
Before last week's ambush, New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that those same fighters had begun launching attacks on Ivory Coast from bases in Liberia. It said the combatants behind the raids, which have killed 40 people since last July, are receiving support from individuals in the region.
The border zone, among the country's richest cocoa farmland, has been among the areas worst-hit by long-running land disputes between ethnic groups and farmers from elsewhere in Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso, who own most of the plantations