Ivory Coast to take France to world court

29th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Nov 28 (AFP) - France on Sunday faced the threat of legal action at the world court following its destruction of Ivorian military aircraft, as an Ivorian police chief said he saw French troops fire directly at unarmed demonstrators at a rally in Abidjan.

ABIDJAN, Nov 28 (AFP) - France on Sunday faced the threat of legal action at the world court following its destruction of Ivorian military aircraft, as an Ivorian police chief said he saw French troops fire directly at unarmed demonstrators at a rally in Abidjan.

Meanwhile, French Defence Minister Alliot Michele-Marie acknowledged that French troops may have been responsible for some Ivorian casualties during demonstrations this month, having earlier said the deaths had been caused by clashes between demonstrators and local police.

Patricia Hamza, a lawyer working with an Ivory Coast presidential mission in Brussels, said a suit against France would be lodged with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the UN's highest legal body, on Monday.

Ivory Coast accuses France of violating bilateral defence accords when it destroyed the small Ivorian air force early this month, after a government air strike killed nine French peacekeepers and a US aid worker, Hamza told AFP.

"A complaint lodged by the state of Ivory Coast against the French state ... is the next logical step in this crisis," said Hamza.

The French retaliation unleashed a torrent of anti-foreigner violence and vandalism and prompted the exodus of more than half of the 14,000-strong French expatriate population from the former French colony.

Paris has since sent reinforcements and evacuated thousands of nationals. Alliot-Marie brushed off the prospect of a lawsuit.

"Ivory Coast is putting out a lot of information and, in a number of cases, disinformation," she told RTL radio late Sunday.

"As a lawyer by training, I cannot see this leading anywhere," she added.

Meanwhile in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, Ivorian police chief Colonel Georges Guiai Bi Poin gave a damning account of clashes that reportedly pitted French forces against protesters at a rally on November 9.

Guiai Bi Poin said he was in charge of about 60 gendarmes outside Abidjan's Hotel Ivoire to prevent demonstrators from storming the building.

He told AFP: "French troops fired directly into the crowd. They opened fire on the orders of their chief Colonel D'Estremon. Without warning."

Guiai Bi Poin he said he was at the French colonel's side in the hotel lobby throughout the night.

Ivorian authorities said a total of 57 civilians were killed and more than 2,200 injured between November 6 and 10, including an unconfirmed number by French troops - but there is no specific toll for the Hotel Ivoire protest.

Followers of President Laurent Gbagbo accused French soldiers, including snipers hidden in the hotel, of firing on "Young Patriot" loyalists.

Until now, Alliot-Marie has insisted the victims were killed in clashes between Young Patriots and Ivorian police. The French military says only that warning shot were fired in the air.

But Alliot-Marie told RTL radio Sunday, without specifically referring to the Hotel Ivoire incident, that some casualties may have been caused by French troops during the demonstrations.

"They were forced to shoot," she said. "They carried out warning shots and, in a few cases, were forced to make full use of their firearms. There was no way of avoiding it."

"There were doubtless a few victims; we don't know for certain because when things take place by night it is very difficult to know what is going on."

She said there were "also a great number of victims inside the crowds, killed by the crush and also from a number of stray bullets," and insisted French troops had shown admirable "self-control and restraint" in "abominable circumstances, faced with a crowd armed with Kalachnikov rifles and guns."

Guiai Bi Poin said the crowd at the Hotel Ivoire was yelling insults but was unarmed.

"Not one of my men fired a shot," he said. "There were no shots from the crowd. None of the demonstrators was armed - not even with sticks, or knives or rocks."

He said that when he reported to the French commander on the day of the riot, he was told: "Colonel, my barbed wire has been crossed, and the crowd is getting excited. If they do not let us leave within 20 minutes, I am going to shoot."

"Suddenly," said Guiai Bi Poin, "there was a movement on our left and my gendarmes were pushed violently by the crowd. They fell back a meter or two. D'Estremon then said to me, 'Colonel, the red line has been crossed. I am going to open fire. FIRE!'"

The officer said the French troops began shooting. "It was not a haphazard fusillade. It was carried out on the orders of their chief. And there was no warning."

Guiai Bi Poin said he yelled at the French officer to fire in the air, to aim higher, "He did this but some of his men did not obey and some continued to fire on the crowd. I saw lots of people falling, but I do not know how many victims there were."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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