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Accounts Differ On How Ivorian Rebel Leader Died - 2004-02-09

Rebels in northern Ivory Coast are giving diverging accounts on the death of a rebel leader.

A regional rebel commander Adama Coulibaly, also known as Adams, was killed Sunday outside a nightclub in the northern city of Korhogo. The exact circumstances of his death remain unclear.

The head of the rebel military command Soumaila Bakayoko says Mr. Coulibaly was accidentally killed by his own bodyguards during a dispute outside the club.

But witnesses and other rebels in Korhogo say three armed men wearing hoods forced Mr. Coulibaly into their vehicle before he was shot.

Five of his bodyguards were detained for questioning.

The reasons for the killing are unclear. Some local newspapers speculate it was linked to Mr. Coulibaly's close ties with Liberian mercenaries, others that he was entangled in a dispute over leadership.

Tensions have been high among rebels in Korhogo since late January, when a group of fighters close to Mr. Coulibaly fought against another group of rebels for control of a gas tank in the city. Adding to the tension was a weekend visit of main rebel-group leaders, during which a fire gutted the Korhogo's markeplace.

A spokesman for the French peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, Bruno Misset, says the effect of the split within the rebel group is hard to gage.

He says apparent divisions within the rebel group could block the disarmament process. But he also says the death of Mr. Coulibaly could allow the process to move along faster, because he was seen as one of its most divisive members.

Rebels continue to control the northern half of Ivory Coast, and there are reports from international monitoring groups that, instead of disarming, they have been stockpiling weapons.

In France last week, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and French President Jacques Chirac agreed that disarmament should be the main priority now. France, the former colonial power, has called for the deployment of several-thousand U-N peacekeepers to help with that process, but the Security Council has yet to approve such a force.