'State sponsored terrorism' in Ivory Coast

12th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

DAKAR, Nov 11 (AFP) - After eight years in Ivory Coast, Sami Hamoune and her husband had seen it all, from lavish parties in one of Africa's most modern cities to weeks trapped under curfew.

DAKAR, Nov 11 (AFP) - After eight years in Ivory Coast, Sami Hamoune and her husband had seen it all, from lavish parties in one of Africa's most modern cities to weeks trapped under curfew.

But last week's violence was too much for the Moroccan-Dutch couple, who boarded the first flight available to escape Abidjan.

"It was complete and total panic and we were just done with it all," she said after arriving in the Senegalese capital aboard a flight chartered by the Dutch government.

"We were among the lucky ones; our house wasn't touched but we had lots of friends who lost everything, and lots of friends who were badly beaten up."

It was the same, terrifying refrain from foreign nationals who landed in west African cities from Dakar to Accra to Lome, shocked and saddened by the vitriol hurled at them by tens of thousands of so-called Ivorian "patriots" egged on by broadcast hate messages.

They were among the more than 2,500 people evacuated since Wednesday by their various governments in the wake of a week of violence in the main city Abidjan sparked by France's aggressive retaliation for an air strike on one of its bases that left nine French troops and a US civilian dead.

"What we experienced was like state-sponsored terrorism against foreigners, especially whites," said a Canadian national who gave his name only as Bernard, one of the more than 300 people who landed Thursday in the Ghanaian capital.

"It got to a stage when we realized that they would just as soon break into our homes or attack us in the streets."

An estimated one in four Abidjan homes occupied by foreign nationals was destroyed in the days of unrest that presidential spokesman Alain Toussaint told AFP left at least 64 dead and "more than 1,000" injured.

"We were hidden in the back of the house and there were dozens of them who stormed through the door," said Cecile, a young mother of three who lived her entire life in Ivory Coast, on arrival in Togo's capital.

"There were gunshots and then nothing - that's when we took our chance to leave. It didn't matter that everything we owned was taken or systematically destroyed - we got out."

There has been no accurate confirmation of the number of casualties suffered by the expatriate community, which numbered some 14,000 French nationals and several thousand more from across Europe, Canada and the United States - most of whom were based in Abidjan.

Humanitarian sources have spoken quietly of horrific murders of foreigners, including two Europeans who were decapitated and the discovery of a screaming baby left in a house alongside his dead parents.

French military commander General Henri Poncet on Thursday also confirmed that a number of women had been brutally raped by the rampaging hordes of "patriots" but revealed no further details out of respect to the women.

"The country is in such a sad state, it is getting poorer and looking for answers as to why," said Yohannes Mekbebe, an Ethiopian-American businessman whose warehouse of construction supplies in the port city San Pedro was stripped of even its light switches and door handles.

Mekbebe was to stay in Accra only briefly before making his way to Cameroon and then, he thought, eventually back to Abidjan to take stock of his assets and plan for his future.

"To me it's an economic problem, nothing political and now will be even worse, because no body will want to invest there again," he said.

"They have completely shot themselves in the foot - they have lost so many jobs. It is over for that country."


Subject: French News

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