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French Judges in Ivory Coast to Investigate Abducted Journalist


Two French judges fly to Ivory Coast this week as part of an investigation into the abduction five years ago of a French-Canadian journalist in the West African country. The magistrates will hear testimony from the wife of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Simone Gbagbo's expected testimony is part of a long-running investigation into the disappearance of French-Canadian reporter Guy-Andre Kieffer in 2004.

Witnesses say Kieffer was abducted in the parking lot of a supermarket in the main city, Abidjan. At the time, he was investigating the country's powerful -- and reportedly corrupt -- cocoa industry. He has not been heard of since, and French investigators believe he was murdered.

Kieffer was scheduled to meet Mrs. Gbagbo's brother-in-law, Michel Legre, before he was abducted. French investigators are said to be focusing on officials in Gbagbo's government with ties to the cocoa sector.

Ambroise Pierre, Africa researcher for the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, hailed Mrs. Gbagbo's apparent willingness to testify after failing to answer two previous summonses.

Pierre said there is nothing to suggest Mrs. Gbagbo could be considered a direct suspect in the affair. The first lady says she has nothing to do with it and Pierre said the testimony will offer her the opportunity to make her argument.

Kieffer's is not the first case involving a French reporter in Ivory Coast. Another journalist, Jean-Helene, was killed by an Ivorian police officer in 2003.

Still, Pierre offered a largely positive assessment of media conditions in Ivory Coast. He said reporters now stay away from investigating the cocoa sector, but they cover many other issues -- and generally don't have problems getting published.

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