Ivory Coast army chief Phillippe Mangou 'seeks refuge'

Gen Phillippe Mangou in 2006
Image caption Gen Mangou's troops have been pushed back in a major offensive by pro-Ouattara forces this week

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's army chief has sought refuge at the home of South Africa's ambassador in Abidjan, South Africa's foreign ministry says.

News of Phillippe Mangou's flight came as the UN-recognised president, Alassane Ouattara, said his fighters were "at the gates" of Abidjan.

His forces have been advancing towards Mr Gbagbo's base in Abidjan from their northern stronghold since Monday.

The UN says Mr Gbagbo lost November's poll, but he has refused to leave.

In a televised address, Mr Ouattara has appealed for his rivals soldiers to join him in order to prevent further suffering.

On Wednesday, his fighters captured Ivory Coast's capital, Yamoussoukro, and the key port of San Pedro.

The BBC's John James in Yamoussoukro says almost the only area President Gbagbo still controls is Abidjan - Ivory Coast's main city which is 240km (150 miles) south capital.

Mr Gbagbo's home town of Gagnoa has also fallen.

Since the crisis began in December, one million people have fled the violence - mostly from Abidjan - and at least 473 people have been killed, according to the UN.

Prison break

South Africa's Department of International Relations said Gen Mangou arrived at their ambassador's official residence in Abidjan with his wife and five children on Wednesday night.

"The South African government is in consultation with the relevant parties in the Ivory Coast, Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations regarding this matter," the statement said.

According to the AFP news agency, Gen Mangou fled a day after state television read out a statement from him, urging Mr Gbagbo's supporters to enlist in the army if they are "willing to die for their country".

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Mr Gbagbo's circle, adding to economic measures already taken by the EU and African groups.

The UN resolution, drafted by France and Nigeria, imposes a travel ban and assets freeze on Mr Gbagbo, his wife Simone and three of his closest associates.

Residents on the outskirts of Abidjan reported heavy fighting on the outskirts of the city on Thursday morning.

Our correspondent says there are several reports that the main prison has been broken into and the prisoners set free.

Pro-Gbagbo militiamen can be seen patrolling the city's empty streets in pick-up trucks.

Checkpoint killings

Image caption Pro-Gbagbo militiamen are patrolling Abidjan's streets

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says it has evidence that migrants from other West African countries are being targeted by pro-Gbagbo forces because they are seen as being sympathetic to Mr Ouattara.

The US-based rights group has documented the massacre of at least 37 foreign workers in a small village in the west, after forces loyal to Mr Ouattara passed through on their advance south.

"As they were killing people, they accused us of being rebels… They said other things in English that I couldn't understand," a 34-year-old man from Burkina Faso told the group's researchers.

"I saw 25 people killed with my own eyes. They killed women, with children, with men."

There are approximately five million expatriate workers in Ivory Coast from neighbouring countries, who came to work on cocoa farms and tropical fruit plantations in what used to be the region's economic powerhouse.

West Africans are also being targeted in Abidjan, some at checkpoints, others house-to-house, Human Rights Watch says.

One witness in Abidjan described an incident on Wednesday:

"At noon, the militiamen stopped a pick-up truck and asked the driver and his apprentice for their ID papers. The driver was told to go ahead, but they pulled the apprentice out of the passenger seat and fired four times at him. His body is still in the street.

"This is their way of targeting foreigners… they judge your background from your ID papers."

Armed men supporting Mr Ouattara had also been killing pro-Gbagbo fighters and supporters, the Human Rights Watch statement said.

The pro-Ouattara forces have controlled the north of the country since a 2002 civil war.

Pro-Gbagbo troops have lost every battle against them since last November's election, our reporter says.

The election was intended to reunify the country.

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