Forces loyal to UN-backed President-elect Alassane Ouattara have entered Ivory Coast’s capital, residents of Yamoussoukro say.

His forces have been advancing from the north and incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has appealed for a ceasefire.

Mr Gbagbo refuses to stand down despite the UN saying he lost November’s poll.

Abidjan is Ivory Coast’s main city, but a BBC reporter says Yamoussoukro’s capture would be a major symbolic victory for the pro-Ouattara forces.

The fighters are also reported to be 100km (60 miles) north of the port of San Pedro, a major cocoa exporting centre.

Some one million people have fled the violence – mostly in Abidjan – and at least 462 people have been killed since December, according to the UN.

Port next?

The BBC’s John James in the northern city of Bouake says residents of the capital voted overwhelmingly for Mr Ouattara in the elections.

He says it is not clear yet if the pro-Ouattara forces who have been spotted in Yamoussoukro have met any resistance.

In Abidjan, the UN says attacks on civilians by pro-Gbagbo youths have continued.

The enrolment of these youths into the army was due to start on Wednesday to replace soldiers who are not turning up for work or who have changed sides, our reporter says.

Fighters loyal to Mr Ouattara have been gaining ground on three fronts from their northern bases this week.

In the west, pro-Ouattara forces have taken the towns Daloa and Duekoue, while in the east, the forces say they have captured the town of Bondoukou.

Thousands of people have taken refuge in a church compound in Duekoue to escape the fighting.

A spokesman for Mr Gbagbo said the army had adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal but warned it could use its “legitimate right of defence”.

Despite the plea, Mr Ouattara’s fighters were reported to have been in towns to the west and north of the capital by Thursday morning.

“Fighting with heavy weapons started at 2am, we are hiding in our houses,” a resident in Tiebissou, 40km north of the city, told the AFP news agency.

In the town of Bouafle, about 50km to the west of the capital, residents told Reuters news agency the fighting began at 0600 GMT.

Our reporter says the other main target under immediate threat is the port of San Pedro in the south-west.

On Thursday afternoon it was reported that Soubre, the nearest town to San Pedro, had been seized by Mr Ouattara’s fighters.

The port’s capture would open up a vital supply route for the pro-Ouattara forces and eventually allow them to start shipping the country’s main export, cocoa, our correspondent says.

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.

Source: BBC