Liberia arrests six over Ivory Coast border attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2012 8:27 AM
Liberia arrests six over Ivory Coast border attack

By Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian troops have captured six men they believe carried out raids on border posts in neighboring Ivory Coast this week, Liberia's defense minister said on Wednesday.

Gunmen attacked border checkpoints manned by the Ivorian military near the town of Toulepleu in Ivory Coast's volatile western borderlands on Monday morning. The fighting lasted much of the day, and one Ivorian soldier was wounded.

Liberia dispatched troops to its side of the frontier during the clashes in an effort to contain the violence and arrested the men as they attempted to flee into Liberian territory.

"These men were trying to enter Liberia illegally with their weapons when they were arrested. These men did not deny their involvement in the attack," Defence Minister Brownie Samukai told Reuters.

"From the identities of the six men arrested ... all of them are Ivorians. They are in detention, and the ministry of justice is working on the prosecution process," he said.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, has blamed fighters loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo for a series of attacks since June that have heightened fears of renewed insecurity a year after a brief civil war killed 3,000 people.

Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Raids on police and military installations in and around Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan last week killed 10 soldiers. Some 20 people, including seven United Nations peacekeepers, died in June in fighting along the border, which Ivory Coast blamed on pro-Gbagbo fighters based in Liberia.

Around 200,000 Ivorians fled into Liberia during Ivory Coast's civil war last year, which erupted after Gbagbo refused to recognize the victory of rival Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election in late 2010. They were accompanied by thousands of armed pro-Gbagbo soldiers and militias as well as their Liberian mercenary allies.

Samukai rejected the idea that Monday's border raid had been launched from Liberian soil however and promised to work with the Ivorian government to ensure the alleged gunmen are prosecuted.

"It is an internal Ivorian conflict. This has to be made clear," he said. "As you know, we work closely with the Ivorian authorities and will cooperate with them."

He said Liberia was awaiting a formal extradition request from Ivory Coast.

Liberia transferred 41 suspected Ivorian fighters to Ivory Coast earlier this year. Monrovia is also currently holding several Liberian mercenaries believed to have carried out the ambush of U.N. soldiers in June. Ivory Coast has requested their extradition for prosecution.

(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Jon Hemming)