BBC BLOGS - Andrew Harding on Africa
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Ivory Coast's future hangs in the balance

Andrew Harding | 11:25 UK time, Monday, 14 March 2011

I'm inside the cramped, furnace-hot interior of a United Nations armoured car, grinding through another makeshift roadblock in Abobo, Abidjan. Outside, men in balaclavas - the so-called "Invisible Commando" that's seized control of the neighbourhood - wave us through.

Abobo - a huge suburb - is enjoying a brief lull in fighting which erupts again soon after we leave. Smoke from burning rubbish drifts across the road. Dogs scavenge. I see three women half-running down a side street. Most shops look like they've been looted.

While the rest of the city remains accessible to forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, Abobo is "liberated territory" held by supporters of his rival, the internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara.

The last roadblock was made of the wreckage of several cars. This one is mainly furniture. I can see pistols, and a couple of machetes through the grimy window. Slumped beside me, two UN peacekeepers from Niger are drenched in sweat - two hours into an eight-hour patrol. It must be nearly forty degrees inside here. By our feet are bottles of water and clips of ammunition.

"Somewhere between a cold war and a civil war," is how the head of the UN mission in Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin, described the situation in the country to me a couple of days ago. It's now moving inexorably closer to the latter - although quite how soon it will all kick off in earnest is still hard to tell.

The New Forces, loyal to Ouattara, seem confident - overly, no doubt - that a blitzkrieg will sweep Gbagbo's loyalists out of power after just a few days of fighting. They're certainly making quiet, but highly significant advances in the west of the country. There's much talk of high-level defections in the military - or at least the groundwork for such defections.

In Abobo, gunmen attempted to hijack a private car we'd hired to pick us up after we'd finished filming the UN. They were talked out of it. But 4x4 vehicles are apparently being targeted actively now. The UN's Mr Choi summed it up neatly:

"We have evidence and intelligence that both sides are preparing for the future."


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