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Verdict Expected in Ivory Coast Massacre Trial - 2001-08-03


A verdict is expected today in Ivory Coast, where eight paramilitary police officers are on trial for murder following the massacre of 57 men. The men were killed in October during political violence in the West African country.

The victims were believed to be supporters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who was excluded from last year's presidential and legislative elections. The men were killed during street demonstrations that followed the ouster of military ruler General Robert Guei at a time when it was unclear who was in control of the government.

Most of those who died belonged to Mr. Ouattara's northern Dioula ethnic group. The massacre has drawn attention to a deep political and cultural divide that exists in Ivory Coast between northern Dioulas and members of southern groups who support President Laurent Gbagbo.

The bodies of the 57 young men were found piled in a forest outside Abidjan days after Mr. Gbagbo was sworn in. The Gbagbo government has denied responsibility for the killings, saying they happened hours before Mr. Gbagbo was sworn in.

A United Nations commission that investigated the case earlier this year blamed the paramilitary police for the massacre. The killings caused outrage among Dioulas and among leaders of Mr. Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans party, who have protested the fact that the eight police officers have been allowed to go free pending their trial. The police officers are being tried in a military court.

During Thursday's session, a military prosecutor demanded that the men get life in prison, the maximum sentence allowed by Ivory Coast's constitution. The prosecutor also called for the officers' commander, Victor Be Kpan, to be expelled from the paramilitary police force.

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