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ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) _ Heavy fighting between forces loyal to Madagascar's rival presidents broke out Monday in the north of this politically divided island nation, military officials said.

The conflict came after military forces loyal to Marc Ravalomanana, who was sworn in as president last month, took over the town of Sambava and its airport in weekend fighting that killed one soldier, officials said. Sambava is a stronghold of incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka.

On Monday, Ratsiraka sent in the nation's top commando force to confront Ravalomana's troops on the outskirts of Sambava.

``It's war in Sambava,'' said Jean Robert Gara, governor of the province of Diego Suarez, which includes Sambava. Gara, a Ratsiraka loyalist, has been accused by human rights groups of sending out militias to intimidate, beat, and torture Ravalomanana supporters.

The fighting is the latest in a series of crises that has split the country between rival presidents, cabinets and capitals in the wake of a disputed election in December. Nearly 40 people have since died in political violence, civil rights officials said.

Ravalomanana was sworn in after the country's highest court supervised a recount of election votes. Ratsiraka, who has moved his government to the port city of Toamasina, rejected the recount.