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Ivory Coast Buries Former Leader Three Years After Assassination


After lying in a morgue for nearly four years, former Ivorian president, Robert Guei, is to be buried Friday. Even after his death, Robert Guei continues to generate controversy.

A day before the funeral, the village elders are queuing up to see President Robert Guei's coffin at the military headquarters in Ivory Coast's biggest city Abidjan. They speak in hushed tones, but no one seems particularly sad.

President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny are to attend and Mr. Guei is to receive military honors, but there is no spectacular funeral procession being planned.

Eric Kaye, who was a minister in the Guei government, says this is not because he was not a respected leader.

"Maybe the situation in the country can explain why there will not be (a) parade. Maybe also the division within his old party is an explanation. But despite this, I think he is a great person," he said.

Mr. Guei came to power in 1999 after ousting then president Henri Konan Bedie in a Christmas coup. He ruled Ivory Coast for less than a year and was himself forced out of office by massive demonstrations that followed his refusal to accept Laurent Gbagbo's victory in the 2000 presidential elections.

He was assassinated near his Abidjan home on September 19, 2002, the same day there was an attempted coup against President Gbagbo. The reason for his murder was never established and his killers never found. Some said he was killed while on the way to the national television studios to announce his return to power. Others say he was hiding from the organizers of the coup.

The ensuing civil war split Ivory Coast in two and Mr. Guei's native village of Kabakouma where he was to be buried fell into the hands of rebels. So his body was put on ice and remained frozen ever since.

But his son Franck has now decided his father will be buried at the family home in Abidjan, not at his native village, and this has stirred passionate debate and controversy.

Not far from the place where Mr. Guei's coffin is on display, some two hundred hunger strikers brandish placards and loudly protest the son's decision.

The leader of Mr. Guei's party's youth wing, Jean Ble Guirao, says African custom dictates he should be buried in his native soil.

He says someone as important as Robert Guei must be buried in his home town. The son, he says, acted illegitimately when he decided where the burial should take place.

Guirao says the family elders, not the son, should decide where to bury Mr. Guei, and they have decided he should be buried in the village.

But former minister Kaye, who is now President Gbagbo's advisor, says this is nonsense.

"In Africa there are no customs which need to be followed. You have to take the advice of the son," he said. " And even if you did want to bury him in his village, that would not be possible now."

That is because the village of Kabakouma is still in the hands of rebels who control the north of Ivory Coast. Many hope that when peace returns and the country is whole again, President Guei's body will be moved to his native Kabakouma.

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