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Slain Journalist's Body Returned to France - 2003-10-23

The body of journalist Jean Helene, who was shot dead by a policeman in Ivory Coast, has been returned to France for burial. Early Thursday morning, a small ceremony took place in Abidjan as the body of journalist Jean Helene was taken for repatriation to France. The French ambassador and the head of Radio France International, where Mr. Helene worked, were among those present.

Heads of state across Africa have condemned the death of Mr. Helene. President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo echoed the opinion of many of his counterparts in the region, when he described the killing as a "brutal blow against freedom of expression, democracy and the fragile reconciliation process in Ivory Coast."

Journalists associations are angry. Amos Beonaho of the National Unions for Journalists in Ivory Coast, called Mr. Helene's death an ignoble act, a grave act of no sense. An act, he said, that totally discredits Ivory Coast.

Mr. Beonaho said that, since the rebel insurgency of September 2002, which saw the country divided in two, journalists from the south have not been able to operate in the north of the country. Neither, he says, have they been able to work freely in the government-held south where they have been the targets of violence.

Mr. Beonaho said a demonstration against Mr. Helene's killing would be held in Abidjan Monday.

There have been calls for Security Minister Martin Bleou to resign over the incident. However, Mr. Bleou denied responsibility, saying his role was to make sure the investigation into Mr. Helene's death was carried out properly.

A joint investigation by Ivorian and French authorities is currently underway.

Mr. Helene had worked in Africa, a continent he loved, since the early 1990s. On Tuesday night he had been waiting outside the main police station in Abidjan to interview 11 political militants who were due to be released by police.

After an altercation with a police officer, Mr. Helene was shot in the head and died instantly.

Rebel leader-turned-Communications Minister Guillaume Soro, in a statement issued late Wednesday, said the death of Mr. Helene was a result of the hatred by certain Ivorians toward international media. Mr. Soro released the statement from his northern rebel stronghold of Bouake.

Some pro-government supporters in Ivory Coast claim elements within the international media are biased against the government and sympathize with the rebel cause.