Ivory Coast puts 28 paramilitary police on trial

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3/2/2012 4:00:04 PM -

ABIDJAN (AFP) - A military court in Ivory Coast put on trial Friday 28 paramilitary police accused of crimes in the period last year when former president Laurent Gbagbo tried to cling to power, a prosecutor said.

"These gendarmes, including a colonel, were close to Major Jean-Noel Abehi, former head of the armoured unit of the gendarmerie based at Agban in Abidjan," military prosecutor Ange Kessi told AFP in the economic capital, where the court is sitting.

Abehi, a former Gbagbo ally who is currently on the run, was convicted in August last year by a military tribunal. He is wanted for crimes committed between December 2010 and April 2011, when Gbagbo refused to accept that he had lost a presidential election and the west African country briefly plunged back into civil war.

The violence, which pit pro-Gbagbo supporters against former rebels and others who backed the internationally recognised winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, claimed at least 3,000 lives.

The gendarmes are accused of public order offences and disobeying military orders, Kessi said.

Nine soldiers from the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast are also due to go on trial for "atrocities against the population, murder" and other offences alongside the paramilitary police.

Kessi said Thursday that the military court would handle "almost 137 cases covering various categories of crime during the Gbagbo era " in a year-long sequence of trials, which would come up as the investigations were closed.

Gbagbo, who was finally arrested by forces loyal to Ouattara, is currently jailed at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces four counts of crimes against humanity.

The ICC said last week it had given its prosecutor the green light to extend a probe into war crimes in Ivory Coast back to 2002, when a failed coup against Gbagbo left the country divided.

Last October, military courts announced charges against dozens of soldiers of the toppled regime, of whom 40 are currently in detention.

They include General Bruno Dogbo Ble, former commander of the feared Republican Guard, and Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, ex-chief of the navy, who were both seen as stalwarts of Gbagbo's 12-year rule.

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