Forces backing Ivory Coast's internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara seized key towns in a massive offensive Tuesday, prompting his rival Laurent Gbagbo to call for a ceasefire.
As Ouattara's camp ruled out a peaceful solution to the bloody post-election dispute, Gbagbo's under-pressure regime offered a ceasefire and talks.
"We call for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of talks under the mediation of the African Union high representative. Failing which, we will use our legitimate right of defence," Gbagbo's spokesman Ahoua Don Mello told AFP.
"We received a letter from the AU inviting us to negotiations from the 4-6 April in Addis Ababa. We haven't replied yet but there is no reason to refuse an occasion for dialogue."
Weary with previous failed diplomatic efforts, Ouattara's Republican Forces army on Monday launched a massive push south from a traditional ceasefire line splitting the country in two since 2002, seizing another four strategic towns on Tuesday.
They were now closer than ever to the economic capital Abijdan, the heart of Gbagbo's power.
"All the peaceful routes to lead Laurent Gbagbo to admit his defeat have been exhausted," read a statement issued Tuesday by Ouattara, widely recognised as having won a disputed November election, and his allies.
As Ouattara's army swept into Gbagbo-controlled areas, the UN mission in Ivory Coast said Gbago's forces had opened fire on civilians in Abidjan on Monday, killing about a dozen, and that pro-Gbagbo youth had burned alive another man.
The mission also said fighters from Ouattara's camp had shot at a UN helicopter surveying the fighting, although they missed. They denied this.
In the far west, the town of Duekoue and, closer to the centre of the country, the large city of Daloa were captured.
Both cities are key entry points to areas of cocoa production as well as the road leading to San Pedro - the world's largest cocoa exporting port.
In the far east, Bondoukau fell to pro-Ouattara fighters, followed by Abengourou further south, residents reported, placing them 220 kilometres (150 miles) from Abidjan, also a hotspot of post-election violence.
At midday pro-Ouattara fighters on the back of 4X4 pick-ups circled Duekoue, cheered on by residents who emerged from their homes for the first time since fierce fighting broke out on Monday morning, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Burning homes, and evidence of fallen shells bore witness to two days of heavy fighting in the town.
Residents of Daloa, about 100 kilometres east of Duekoue, also reported Ouattara's Republican Forces were in control of the city, one of the country's biggest.
Scenes of victory also played out in Bondoukau where a resident said pro-Ouattara forces were "parading about the town shooting into the air".
Gbagbo's spokesman Don Mello accused pro-Ouattara fighters of committing numerous violent acts during their offensive across the country.
A November 28 election was meant to re-unite Ivory Coast after its 2002 split following the coup attempt against Gbagbo which left rebels in control of the north and Gbagbo ruling the south.
Several attempts to find a diplomatic solution and convince Gbagbo to step down have failed.
Ouattara last week rejected the African Union's choice of former Cape Verde foreign minister Jose Brito to mediate an end to the crisis, objecting that he had close links with Gbagbo.
Election-linked violence has left at least 460 people dead with as many as one million fleeing their homes, according to UN agencies.
Amid fears of full-blown civil war, forces loyal to both sides have been accused of crimes against humanity.
The UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) said Gbagbo's forces had killed more civilians in Abidjan Monday. They have already been accused of killing seven women at a protest and 30 people in a mortar attack in the city this month.
"Forces loyal to president Gbagbo fired on innocent civilians on Monday afternoon in Williamsville, killing about a dozen," it said in a statement.
And in the suburb of Riviera, "a group of pro-Gbagbo youths necklaced a young man, burning him alive," it said, referring to the practice of placing a tyre around someone's head, filling it with petrol and setting it alight.
"Another group savagely attacked two officials" working for the UN mission, it said.© ANP/AFP