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Families live in fear as Ivory Coast fighting intensifies

Women and children are living in fear in the Ivory Coast as the United Nations starts to evacuate 200 staff from the strife-torn country.

The evacuation order was for all essential staff and ‘non essential’ staff left months ago.

French troops yesterday took control of Abidjan airport as forces loyal to the country's rival presidents fight for control of the west African country’s main city.

And as fighting shows no signs of calming and people start looting buildings, ordinary families are living with gunfire round the clock and are afraid to leave their homes.

I can hear the gunfire while I am in my house,” said Stephane Abidjan.

One of the worst things is we keep hearing lots of conflicting information,” she told the BBC. “One minute you hear the pro-Ouattara army is taking advantage of the chaos and the situation, the next you hear it is the pro-Gbagbo forces doing that.

I am with my family and we are scared. We feel we cannot leave the house at all. We only went out briefly yesterday and that was to try to find somewhere to buy food.

We are trying to stay as safe as possible and have locked and blocked the doors and windows. We are trying to avoid opening the door if somebody knocks on it as we have heard about robbers targeting neighbourhoods near us and looking for houses to target. We just stay hidden as much as we can.

Troops backing Alassane Ouattara, the widely accepted winner of last November's contested election, started mobilising during the week to oust president Laurent Gbagbo who for months has refused to accept the result of the UN-certified poll.

At least 800 people were killed in the western town of Duékoué during the week, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday. It was not clear whether the 330 counted by ONUCI was included in that figure.

The French defence ministry said yesterday that French troops had taken control of Abidjan's airport and that Frans plans to send an extra 300 troops.

Yesterday, after a day and night of fierce fighting, Abidjan was calm but there was still gunfire, people living in the city said. They heard heavy cannon fire and shooting overnight, they told the Guardian newspaper.

Up to now, more than 1,300 people have been killed so far in the post-election fighting. And 1,000 people had been killed or "disappeared" in Duékoué, said Catholic charity, Caritas.

Hayley attribution