French colonel denies troops fired in Abidjan

10th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 10 (AFP) - French troops did not fire on a crowd in the main Ivory Coast city Abidjan last month as tensions peaked in the country following the deaths of nine French peacekeepers in an Ivorian air raid, the soldiers' commanding officer said Friday.

PARIS, Dec 10 (AFP) - French troops did not fire on a crowd in the main Ivory Coast city Abidjan last month as tensions peaked in the country following the deaths of nine French peacekeepers in an Ivorian air raid, the soldiers' commanding officer said Friday.

"My men could not have done that. We did not have weapons capable of inflicting such injuries," Colonel Patrick Destremeau, who commanded the French contingent implicated in the unrest outside the Hotel Ivoire last month, said in an interview published here in Liberation newspaper.

The Ivorian government has said several people were killed when French soldiers opened fire on demonstrators outside the hotel last month.

The authorities in the former French west African colony have issued photographs showing at least one person who was decapitated, allegedly when the French troops shot with heavy weapons at the demonstrators.

"Had we shot into the crowd with heavy weapons, it would have been a massacre," said Destremeau, adding that his troops had gathered up spent Kalashnikov cartridges, which proved that "people in the crowd had shot at them."

Destremeau said he was available to give evidence before a commission of enquiry "for the honour of my soldiers who behaved remarkably well at the Ivoire, and because we are a democracy."

He also said that Paris would back the United Nations if the world body decided to investigate what happened outside the Hotel Ivoire.

He also reiterated a statement by the defence ministry on November 30, which said that French troops killed "around 20" Ivorians and injured a "number that is impossible to establish" during the week of unrest throughout Ivory Coast at the beginning of November.

The authorities in Ivory Coast have said 57 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 wounded from November 6 to 9, in clashes with French troops.

Ivory Coast's civil war, which grew out of a rebel uprising in September 2002, escalated sharply in early November when the Ivorian air force launched a series of bombing raids on rebel cities in the north.

In the last of the raids, targeting the central rebel headquarters of Bouake, nine French peacekeepers, who have been in Ivory Coast since October 2002 to patrol a buffer zone running through the middle of the country, were killed, along with a US aid worker.

The French retaliated swiftly and sharply, wiping out the Ivorian air force.

That sparked days of violence, mainly in Abidjan and other southern cities under the control of loyalists to President Laurent Gbagbo in the south, targeting French and other expatriates. Thousands of foreigners have since fled the country, once a model of calm and stability in otherwise volatile west Africa.

At the height of the violence, France sent around 1,000 troop reinforcements to Ivory Coast, but they have been withdrawn as tensions have eased, leaving the size of the French military contingent in Ivory Coast at around 5,000.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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