Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: Protests continue; politician's death blamed on death squads

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ABIDJAN, 3 February (IRIN) - Thousands of women staged a sit-in outside the French Embassy in Abidjan on Monday, in the latest of a series of protests in the Ivorian commercial capital. The aim of Monday's protest and a mammoth demonstration on Saturday that involved hundreds of thousands of people, was to demonstrate opposition to recent agreements concluded in France with a view to resolving a four-month-old conflict.
Saturday's demonstration was one of the largest in Cote d'Ivoire in recent years. It involved people from civil society organisations, pressure groups which support the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, interest groups and a sprinkling of French, Lebanese and other foreigners resident in Cote d'Ivoire. Monday's was organised by a number of women's groups.

The protests have been sparked by agreements under which a new government of national reconciliation is to include the ruling Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), the opposition Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), other political parties, and three rebels groups: the Mouvement Patriotique de Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI), the Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix (MJP) and the Mouvement populaire ivoirien du Grand Ouest (MPIGO).

The MPCI occupies the north and northwest of the country. Its rebellion started on 19 September 2002 as an uprising by members of the military - described by the government as a failed coup d'etat. The other two rebel groups are based in the west, along the border with Liberia.

Under the agreement concluded on 24 January in Marcoussis, France, following nine days of negotiations between the rebels and Cote d'Ivoire's main political parties, the new government would be headed by a consensus prime minister.

The Marcoussis agreement was ratified by Gbagbo at a summit of West African leaders on 25 January. After the summit, the rebels announced that they had been awarded the portfolios of Defence and the Interior in the government of national reconciliation. This led to violent protests in Abidjan that began on the night of 25-26 January and continued until 28 January. Protesters attacked the embassies of France and Burkina Faso, French schools, businesses, French nationals and other whites mistaken for Frenchmen.

The violence died down on 29 January, when a relatively peaceful demonstration was held.

On 31 January, news that Seydou Diarra, chosen at the talks in France as the new prime minister, would arrive in Abidjan from Senegal - where he had attended a West African summit - sparked yet another protest, with hundreds of youths invading the runway at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport, delaying the departure of hundreds of French nationals. They were later escorted off the tarmac by security forces.

Death squads strike again

On Sunday, another protest followed the discovery on a street in Abidjan's Adjame suburb of the bullet-ridden body of well-known local actor, Camara va Karamogo. According to the victim's son, Va Karamogo had been taken from his home on Saturday night by armed men in uniform who travelled in three unmarked vehicles. The dead man had been a member of the politburo of the opposition RDR and communications secretary in the office of Adjame's Mayor, who is also a member of the RDR. News of his murder led to riots in Adjame and another low-income suburb, Abobo. Two buses were burned by demonstrators who denounced the government.

At least one person was reported to have died while others were injured when security forces fired teargas, beat and shot at Sunday's protesters.

Va Karamoko's death was attributed by media and other observers to death squads, whose activities have been reported by various human rights bodies, including a team headed by the Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharran, which visited Cote d'Ivoire from 23 to 29 December 2002.

"Many murders of politicians, businessmen and others have taken place in the economic capital, Abidjan," the mission said in its report, transmitted to the UN Security Council by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 24 January 2003. "According to testimony that was received, these murders are organised by death squads and private militias." The mission said it had "compiled information to the effect that the death squads are made up of elements close to the government, the presidential guard, and a tribal militia of the president's ethnic group".

It said violations of the right to life had been perpetrated by both government forces and rebels, including summary executions. It quoted one human rights organisation as saying that it was aware of some 150 summary executions committed in government-held areas, while many gendarmes and police officers were reported to have been killed in the towns of Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo when MPCI combattants advanced into these towns [in September].

However, the report noted steps taken by the Ivorian government in the sphere of human rights, including the establishment of a ministry of human rights and the issuing by the minister of a position paper on governmental efforts to respect human rights in the middle of a conflict. "This effort by the government faced with an emergency threatening the life of the nation is noteworthy - even if the impact of the Ministry of Human Rights is still to be felt within the country," it said.

[The report is available at http://www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2003/unsc-cot-24jan.pdf]

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