Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Breaking News on the Hotel Ivoire Incident: Ivorian Gendarme Accuses French Troops of Firing on Crowd

A colonel of the Ivorian gendarmerie interviewed by Agence France Presse (AFP) has affirmed that French forces on November 9 fired directly and without warning upon the crowd of protestors gathered in front of the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan. Colonel Georges Guiai Bi Poin, who was in charge of a contingent of Ivorian gendarmes dispatched to control the crowd and coordinate with the French troops, says that the order to fire came from the commander of the latter, colonel D'Estremon. An English version of an AFP report containing some of the details is reprinted here. Note that these details concerning the Hotel Ivoire incident are, in effect, buried in a report whose title refers rather to the prospect of the Ivory Coast filing a complaint against France with the International Court of Justice in the separate matter of the French destruction of the Ivorian air force. The relevant passages of the report begin with the words “meanwhile in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan….”

Colonel Guiai Bi Poin is quoted saying: “French troops fired directly into the crowd. They opened fire on the orders of their chief Colonel D'Estremon. Without warning.” Note that the last sentence in the French original implies more precisely that there were not warning shots [“aucune sommation”] – and thus explicitly contradicts the version of events still being defended by French officials. The AFP report, dated Sunday November 28, continues:

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 [sic.], 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."

In a more complete AFP report published on the website of the private French television network TF1, Colonel Guiai Bi Poin adds: “At the same time we distinctly heard much more powerful detonations coming from upper floors in the hotel. It was one of these detonations that blew off the head of one of the protestors.” According to Guiai Bi Poin, six masked members of French special forces leaving the hotel then ran by his own troops.