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Armed Ivorians Occupy Liberian Forest

Armed men have crossed into Liberia from Ivory Coast and occupied an area of forest, spreading alarm in the remote border region, a lawmaker has said. The alleged incursion — which could not immediately be independently verified — would mark a worrying development in a campaign of violence by militants crossing in the other direction that has displaced thousands and claimed dozens of lives in the border area.

“It is dangerous in the sense that it is about people from another country, Ivory Coast, coming to Liberia,” Marshall Dennis, a senator in the southeastern county of Grand Gedeh, said in parliament. “This is causing serious panic among our people.” The senate — Liberia’s upper house — announced in a statement it had set up a committee to investigate the allegations. “These people have entered the Liberian soil violently, without any remorse, without taking into consideration the constituted boundary between the two countries,” Dennis said.

He did not provide details of the alleged violence, or of the Ivorian group’s size, but he described the situation as “a national threat” which could create “a problem between the two sister countries”. A political crisis was ignited by former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept election defeat to Alassane Ouattara in 2010, leading to a four-month conflict that claimed some 3,000 lives.

Thousands of Gbagbo’s supporters fled the far west across the porous 700-kilometre (435-mile) border into neighbouring Liberia when he was captured in April 2011. Observers say the pro-Gbagbo political elites, now mostly in Ghana or elsewhere in west Africa, are funding incursions into western Ivory Coast by Liberian mercenaries and Ivorians recruited in Liberia’s refugee camps.

In the worst incident, seven United Nations troops from Niger, 10 civilians and at least one Ivorian soldier were killed while patrolling villages south of the town of Tai. Incursions in the other direction have been rare, however. Experts have warned that the violence could intensify in the months ahead of presidential elections due to take place in Ivory Coast in October

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