UPDATE: French diplomat shot dead in Ivory Coast

8th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - A French regional security agent for the European Union has been shot dead at his home in the Ivory Coast, EU and French government officials said Wednesday.

ABIDJAN, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - A French regional security agent for the European Union has been shot dead at his home in the Ivory Coast, EU and French government officials said Wednesday.

Michel Niaucel, 54, died of bullet wounds received from his own service gun, police said, adding they had found the 357 Magnum revolver inside a red bag with five cartridges and a spent case in a bathroom cabinet.

We confirm that our colleague was killed last night at his home in Abidjan," said EU mission spokesman Lucien Houedanou.

The diplomat's wife, who was at home in Abidjan's commercial district of Plateau at the time of the shooting along with their 13-year-old daughter, is being held by police for questioning.

During her first interview Mrs Niaucel told police she "had been woken from her sleep by an unfamiliar voice" conversing with her husband when the gun went off.

Police said it had ruled out suicide and and also theft as a motive for the crime as there were no signs of forced entry.

Several diplomats in Abidjan said the killing did not appear to be politically motivated.

The French foreign ministry said investigations had been opened into the death, which took place before 3:00 am (0300 GMT).

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy offered condolences to the family of Niaucel and said French authorities were in contact with their EU and Ivorian counterparts.

"An investigation has been opened. I want there to be full light shed on this horrible killing," he said.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso expressed "his sadness and condolences following the violent death of Michel Niaucel," commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said in Brussels.

Political violence against Western diplomats has been rare in recent months in this politically-volatile former French colony, which is divided into a rebel-held north and a government-ruled south.

Foreigners were targeted in November 2004 when some 8,000 French expatriates had to be evacuated following anti-French demonstrations by militant youths loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo.

Anti-French riots were sparked after President Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of the Ivorian airforce -- a move prompted by an air raid on a peace-keeping encampment which killed nine French soldiers.

Relations between Paris and Abidjan have nosedived since September 2002 when a military mutiny failed to topple President Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo's supporters accused France of supporting the rebellion.

Ivory Coast, the world's top producer of cocoa, has been split in two since then with the New Forces rebels controlling the north while Gbagbo's government runs the south.

The two sides have been kept apart by more than 8,000 United Nations and about 3,500 French peacekeepers patrolling the buffer zone.

The UN Security Council is due to meet next week to decide whether to extend its peacekeeping operations in the country.

There are an estimated 3,000 French civilian nationals still living in Abidjan, compared to about 50,000 in the 1980s.

The most recent cases of animosity towards French nationals involved the killing by police in October 2003 of journalist Jean Helene and the disappearance of a French-Canadian journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer, in April 2004.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Ivory coast

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