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Ivorian Policeman Did Not Shoot French Journalist, say Lawyers - 2003-11-06

Lawyers for the Ivorian policeman who is accused of shooting a French radio journalist in Abidjan say he did not fire the gun that killed the reporter. But the prosecution disagrees.

Lawyers for policeman Theodore Dago Sery admit their client fought with French reporter Jean Helene on the night of October 21 outside police headquarters in Abidjan. But they say someone else fired the shots.

The policeman's main lawyer, Charles Kignima, says Mr. Helene and the policeman got involved in a scuffle, when the journalist refused to leave.

Mr. Kignima says, after his client hit Mr. Helene with the butt of his machine gun, two shots rang out from another direction, killing the journalist. He also says the policeman's own gun was not fired on the night of the crime.

That account contrasts sharply with the prosecution's version. According to an Ivorian military prosecutor, Mr. Sery admitted he committed the crime, and that, if convicted, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

In Paris, meanwhile, a somber tribute was held Wednesday for Mr. Helene, who worked as a journalist for 15 years in Africa.

One of his former colleagues in the Republic of Congo, Alain Shungu, says Jean Helene always said he would die in Africa, but no one expected it to happen at the hands of a policeman.

A joint French-Ivorian investigation is under way in Abidjan.