Ivory Coast party leader: Lay down your arms

AP News
Posted: Apr 16, 2011 5:51 PM
Ivory Coast party leader: Lay down your arms

The leader of strongman Laurent Gbagbo's party urged die-hard militants to lay down their arms and called for national reconciliation Saturday, even as shooting erupted in a suburb of Abidjan.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan read a declaration to the nation saying "the war has ended" following Gbagbo's arrest Monday. He urged "an end to the death of our compatriots," saying the people of Ivory Coast must "give a chance to the restoration of peace" and halt the "revenge killings, the looting."

Gbagbo, who has ruled since 2000, refused to accept defeat at Nov. 28 elections that he had delayed for five years. He took a last stand in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where remaining loyalist troops turned heavy weapons on civilians. He was arrested by forces loyal to internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara after U.N. and French troops bombed the presidential palace.

"The FPI is very devastated by the chaotic situation and presents its sympathies to the families of all those who have died," said Affi N'Guessan, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front.

International journalists initially were prevented from hearing his declaration by an officer of forces who fought to install Ouattara and who themselves are accused of killing hundreds of civilians in what could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only Ouattara's Ivorian Radio and Television, known by its French acronym RTI, was first allowed to film the declaration.

But journalists telephoned ministers in Ouattara's Cabinet complaining, and were later allowed to separately record Affi N'Guessan's statement.

He spoke after shooting erupted Saturday morning in Abidjan's sprawling Yopougon neighborhood on the outskirts of the commercial capital, where Gbagbo fighters have sought refuge and pro-Ouattara fighters were trying to disarm them, residents of the area said.

Affi N'Guessan was accompanied by Gbagbo's former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, who told The Associated Press that Gbagbo is under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers in northern Korhogo town, a Ouattara stronghold.

Djedje said he, at least two other ministers and several legislators also have been given U.N. protection in Abidjan, after an agreement was reached Thursday with Ouattara's government.

He said Gbagbo's wife, Simone, who is accused of encouraging his intransigence, remains in Abidjan with nearly 100 other prisoners of the former regime. Ouattara's children are being protected at an unlooted family home near the seaside resort of Grand Bassam, Djedje said.

He was prevented from saying more to an AP journalist by a member of the pro-Ouattara forces, who said Djedje was not allowed to speak to reporters. Another Ouattara official in the security department refused to allow Affi N'Guessan to take questions from reporters.

Meanwhile, state radio reported that Gbagbo's interior minister, Desire Tagro, died on Tuesday after being shot and badly beaten by fighters who captured him Monday along with Gbagbo. Gbagbo had said after his capture that he asked Tagro to signal his surrender as the residence was being stormed, by walking out with a white flag.

Ouattara has said that Gbagbo's safety is assured and that he wants the former strongman tried by both national and international courts for his alleged crimes. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it is conducting a preliminary examination into crimes perpetrated by all sides in the conflict in this West African nation.

Friday night state television broadcast video of the capture earlier in the day of Gen. Brunot Dogbo Ble, head of the Republican Guard, the only unit that remained steadfastly loyal to Gbagbo and fought fiercely in Abidjan, the seat of government.

Apart from Yopougon, the rest of Ivory Coast's commercial capital has been largely calm for two days, with some people venturing out of their homes Saturday for the first time in two weeks. But Yopougon residents say they have been assailed by forces loyal to Ouattara, who on Wednesday went house to house searching for former soldiers, whom they shot and killed. On Thursday, residents said the pro-Ouattara forces were shooting into the air to frighten people into fleeing, and then pillaging their homes and shops.

Abidjan had been a city under siege as pro-Gbagbo forces took a last stand and turned heavy weapons on civilians, as well as attacking the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Abidjan and the residence of the French and Japanese ambassadors.

Thousands of people have been killed and wounded, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Residents of Adjame neighborhood burned bodies and trash in a cleanup effort. An AP photographer saw two burning bodies and residents said there were other bodies in a huge pile of flaming trash.

"There are too many bodies to count," one resident said, when asked how many bodies had been burned.

Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou told the AP that he was drawing up a list of ministers, generals and journalists to be charged with blood crimes, corruption and hate speech.

Top of the list is Charles Ble Goude, youth minister in Gbagbo's disgraced government, who organized a violent anti-French and anti-U.N. gang that has terrorized foreigners and ordinary civilians.

Ble Goude is known as the "street general" for organizing the violent gang that terrorized Ivory Coast's foreign population and incited the militia-like gang of thugs called the Young Patriots to attack foreigners, U.N. peacekeepers as well as Ouattara's supporters.

"We are investigating every member of the Cabinet of Mr. Gbagbo for blood crimes, money crimes, buying guns and other arms," Ahoussou told the AP in a telephone interview.

He said he also was investigating journalists who broadcast hate speech. Gbagbo had turned the state Radio Television Ivoirienne into a propaganda organ that broadcast statements inciting violence against tribes loyal to Ouattara.


Rebecca Blackwell contributed to this report.