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French Authorities Increasingly Concerned About Missing Journalist in Ivory Coast - 2004-04-27

French authorities and press freedom groups have expressed increasing concern over a missing journalist in Ivory Coast who has dual French and Canadian citizenship. Journalists feel increasingly under threat in the West African country, which is divided by civil war.

French President Jacques Chirac has called Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo twice in recent days, asking him to do his utmost to find investigative journalist Guy Andre Kieffer.

Mr. Chirac said that the lack of information and the lack of progress in the Ivorian police investigation are extremely worrisome.

Mr. Kieffer was last seen April 16, a day he was scheduled to meet the brother-in-law of the president's wife. Since then, his car has not been found and his mobile phone has been shut off. No further information has been confirmed.

A press-freedom advocate at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Julia Crawford, said that insecurity is growing among journalists in Ivory Coast.

"We are hearing more and more cases of journalists who have been receiving threats, either direct or indirect, indeed sometimes even through the press and many incidents of journalists who have been harassed or roughed up at demonstrations," she said. "So, it is extremely worrying. We are extremely concerned. The situation seems to be really chaotic."

Security forces warned one foreign journalist to stay away from a protest Sunday by militants close to President Gbagbo. Others were warned they could be killed.

An Ivorian journalist who was close to Mr. Kieffer said that his neighbors reported that three men came looking for him at his apartment last week, but that he had already been warned not to be there.

Last month, security forces stopped a team of journalists while they traveled to investigate an alleged mass grave. The security men said they had been ordered to shoot at the journalists' car.

At the Committee to Protect Journalists, Julia Crawford said that journalists have reason to fear in Ivory Coast.

"There are many rumors, there is a generalized atmosphere of fear," she added. "But nobody's quite sure how much in charge the authorities really are, whether they actually can do something, even if they want to."

In at least one case, the threats proved to be deadly. French radio journalist Jean Helene was shot down last October outside police headquarters by a police officer. The officer was sentenced to 17 years in jail for the killing, but militant supporters of President Gbagbo call him a hero.

The militants view foreign journalists as favorable to rebels, who have controlled northern Ivory Coast since September 2002, seeking equal rights for northerners.

The missing journalist, Guy-Andre Kieffer, wrote articles that the president's supporters would not have liked. Among other topics, he wrote about corruption in the cocoa industry and about cross-border money laundering.

Mr. Kieffer, who was also a consultant in the cocoa industry, had close ties with several rebel leaders. He also wrote under false names for opposition media.

One of the publications that used his work was La Lettre du Continent, or The Continental Letter, an investigative newsletter. Its director, Antoine Glaser, said that he believes the Franco-Canadian journalist was kidnapped.

Mr. Glaser believes Mr. Kieffer might have subsequently died or been killed by his captors. He predicts Mr. Kieffer's body will never be found.

Mr. Glaser added that Mr. Kieffer had mentioned he might go hide in Ghana, because he feared his life was in danger. Last year, shadowy death squads killed several Ivorian politicians, businessmen and artists.

His Paris-based wife, Osange Silou, said that she still hopes he is alive, but she thinks there is a 99-percent chance he is not.

Ms. Silou said that she is setting up groups in Canada, France and Africa to seek information about her husband and to put pressure on the Ivorian government to pursue its investigation into his disappearance. The head of the Ivorian police investigation, Desire Adjoussou, said this week he has no clues.

The French and Canadian embassies in Abidjan have established a crisis committee to share information about Mr. Kieffer's case, but for the moment, there is little information to share.