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Ivory Coast attack kills 20 civilians, rebels say

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Government helicopter gunships attacked a rebel-held Ivory Coast town, killing 20 civilians and injuring many others, a rebel leader said Sunday.

Sgt. Felix Doh, leader of a rebel faction in western Ivory Coast, said his forces were attacked in Bin-Houye, a border town 320 miles northwest of the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Ivory Coast government officials confirmed fighting took place in the town but said rebels attacked loyalist forces first.

"Government forces were attacked and we reacted," Toussaint Alain, a spokesman for President Laurent Gbagbo, told The Associated Press without elaborating. "Each time we are attacked, we will react with all means at our disposal."

The claim of civilian casualties could not immediately be verified.

The rebellion, which arose from a failed Sept. 19 coup attempt, has divided the former French colony into government- and insurgent-held zones.

The warring sides are deadlocked over a France-brokered Jan. 24 peace accord the rebels say gives them several key ministry posts in a coalition government. Gbagbo has insisted he has the final say in awarding cabinet posts.

Some 3,000 French troops are monitoring a fragile cease-fire and protecting t French civilians and other foreigners remaining in the country.