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Ivory Coast President Accuses Arrested Leader Plotting to Overthrow Government - 2003-08-27


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo says alleged coup plotters arrested in France earlier this week were scheming to kill him.

According to Mr. Gbagbo, Ibrahim Coulibaly and others arrested Monday in Paris were plotting to overthrow the government, and assassinate him and other key political figures.

By contrast, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who has been brought into the government of reconciliation as communications minister, says Ibrahim Coulibaly should be released. According to Mr. Soro, Mr. Coulibaly was simply exercising his right to return to his native Ivory Coast after a recent amnesty was put into place.

Ibrahim Coulibaly, who masterminded a coup in 1999, had been in exile in Burkina Faso since the uprising last September. Days prior to his arrest in Paris, he publicly announced his intention to return to Ivory Coast.

Details about the others arrested are unclear, although the French authorities say those apprehended come from Corsica, Lebanon, and Ivory Coast. Some are thought by French authorities to be mercenaries.

Rumors of a coup plot had circulated in the commercial capital, Abidjan, for days, leading to a heavier than usual army presence on the city's streets.

Both former rebels and President Gbagbo reiterated their commitment to the peace process Tuesday, although a number of stumbling blocks have emerged.

Last week, the Ivorian prime minister, Seydou Diarra, conceded that the peace process was at a standstill. Former rebels are accusing President Gbagbo of failing to adhere to the terms of the January 2003 peace deal and have thrown doubt over whether elections can be held in 2005, as planned.

In a separate incident that has cast a shadow over French involvement in Ivory Coast, two French soldiers were killed this week by former rebels in the central part of the country. They are the first French deaths since 4,000 troops from that nation were sent to Ivory Coast for peacekeeping duties in the wake of last years' rebellion.