Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Cote d'Ivoire: the plot thickens?

On Saturday, France arrested 10 people it said were plotting to destabilize Cote d'Ivoire. Four of them were arrested at the airport, about to board a plane to Abidjan. France is holding the men under a new anti-mercenary law.

Sourcing unnamed prosecutors and judical officials, the Associated Press reported that some of the men admitted they were planning to assassinate Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Over in Cote d'Ivoire itself, another 20 people have been held for questioning, suspected of being involved in the alleged plot.

President Gbagbo went on national television yesterday and thanked the French government for its help.

Today, Pascal Affi Nguessan, a former prime minister and current head of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party, alleged that the current Prime Minister Seydou Diarra was involved in the plot. Nguessan offered no proof.

In recent weeks, Diarra has complained about the pace at which the peace deal was being implemented -- an indirect swipe at Gbagbo.

One of those arrestsed in France was Ibrahim Coulibaly, a former army master sergeant who led a successful coup in 1999. Once he grabbed power, Coulibaly handed leadership over to General Robert Guei. Guei regime didn't last long and Coulibaly has lived in exile in Burkina Faso since 2000. Coulibaly recently announced that he wished to return to Cote d'Ivoire. He denies being involved in any plot

Coulibaly does have a supporter.
... former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who has been brought into the government of reconciliation as communications minister, says Ibrahim Coulibaly should be released. According to Mr. Soro, Mr. Coulibaly was simply exercising his right to return to his native Ivory Coast after a recent amnesty was put into place.
Earlier this month, Cote d'Ivoire's parliament approved a bill offering amnesty to rebels. This was a key element of the peace plan signed back in January. However, amnesty wouldn't apply to those "who have committed serious human rights abuses or economic crimes during the hostilities". It's not clear whether Coulibaly would have qualified under those rules.

This IRIN story, sourcing an unnamed French diplomat in Abidjan, names some of the other people arrested in France. One of the most prominant is Mamadou Diomande, a lawyer who serves as MPCI's spokesman in Europe. (The MPCI is the rebel group which controls the north of the country.) The MPCI leadership was quick to disavow any assocation with the alleged plot.

MPCI = Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire