21 March 2011
Last updated at 08:45 ET
Thousands of supporters of Ivory Coast’s disputed President Laurent Gbagbo have gathered at an army base to enlist, amid fears the crisis could destabilise West Africa.
The young activists were heeding a call to join the army from a key ally of Mr Gbagbo, Charles Ble Goude.
He urged them to fight supporters of Alassane Ouattara, widely recognised as the winner of last year’s elections.
The UN refugee agency has warned of the increasing flow of refugees.
“The risks of destabilising the region are enormous,” UNHCR head Antonio Guterres told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.
He said some 90,000 people had fled to Liberia – a poor country recovering from its own civil war – and hundreds more had crossed into Ghana.
Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, used to enjoy the highest living standards in West Africa.
The November election was supposed to reunite it after a 2002-3 civil war but Mr Gbagbo refuses to cede power.
Ivory Coast: Battle for power
- 435 killed since disputed election
- 450,000 forced from their homes
- 9,000 UN peacekeepers to monitor 2003 ceasefire
- Election intended to reunite country
- World’s largest cocoa producer
- Previously seen as haven of peace and prosperity in West Africa
- Alassane Ouattara recognised as president-elect
- International sanctions imposed to force Laurent Gbagbo to go
On Saturday Mr Goude, appointed as Mr Gbagbo’s youth minister, urged his supporters to join the army and “liberate” the country.
Prospective recruits turned at up an army base in the main city, Abidjan, chanting slogans such as “The rebels will die”, reports Reuters news agency.
The security forces largely back Mr Gbagbo, while the New Forces former rebels who still control the north of the country back Mr Ouattara.
Mr Guterres also said that about 500,000 people had fled their homes inside Ivory Coast.
This follows fighting in Abidjan between the security forces and pro-Ouattara militias.
Both sides have been accused of atrocities.
Last week, the UN mission in Ivory Coast said the shelling of a market in a pro-Ouattara district of Abidjan by pro-Gbagbo forces could constitute a crime against humanity.
Mr Gbagbo’s allies have denied firing the shells, which killed at least 25 people.
Mr Goude heads the Young Patriots militia and is under UN sanctions for previously inciting violence.
The UN says more than 435 people have been killed since the November election.
The UN helped organise the election and says that Mr Ouattara won – a position endorsed by the African Union.
But Mr Gbagbo says there was widespread fraud in areas under New Forces control and says he was the rightful winner.
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Thousands ‘join Ivory Coast army’