Ivory Coast’s former leader Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to step down after losing November’s election triggered a civil war, was captured after French troops and forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara laid siege to his home.
Ouattara’s Republican Forces “entered the residence of Gbagbo and it was they who went to catch him in his bunker,” Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, told France 24 television. “Gbagbo and his wife are alive and in good health.” They were taken to the Golf Hotel, which his rival Ouattara has used as his base since the Nov. 28 presidential vote.
The capture may signal an end to the violent four-month- long impasse that left Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the election, unable to take office. His fighters advanced rapidly to the south from their northern bases last month and started the assault on Abidjan March 31, backed by air strikes from United Nations and French forces.
While French forces “helped” the pro-Ouattara fighters in the operation to capture Gbagbo, they did not make the arrest, Laurent Teisseire, a spokesman for the French Defense Ministry, said by phone.
Cocoa for May delivery rose as high as 3.2 percent, or $94, to $3,079 per metric ton, the highest since Dec. 6, before trading 1.4 percent higher at $3,028 in New York. The country’s defaulted $2.3 billion Eurobonds rose as much as 1.8 percent, to 53.833 cents on the dollar, their highest in four months. They traded 0.4 percent lower at 52.688 cents at 6:06 p.m. in Abidjan.
The capture will be “an opportunity for the people of that country, who have been through so much in recent months, to find a democratic way forward,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London.
Cheering and gunfire was heard in parts of the city of 4 million, including the Cocody neighborhood where Gbagbo’s home is located, after word of the arrest spread.
“We have been liberated,” said resident Amidou Ouadrago. “The man was wearing us out.”
In Blockhaus, a neighborhood that supports Gbagbo, gunfire was heard and militia were seen in the streets, said Moussa Diarra, a resident. “They are still carrying weapons,” he said. “I can hear shooting in my street.”
Gbagbo, 65, had ruled the world’s top cocoa producer for a decade, weathering a coup attempt in 2002 and a subsequent civil war that left the country split between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.
“We don’t know what could happen next,” said Deux Plateaux resident Isaac N’Guessan. “It is maybe a first step, but I’m not sure this is the end.”
Backing from Ivory Coast’s army and police had allowed Gbagbo to resist four months of international pressure as the UN, African Union, European Union and U.S. called on him to hand over power to Ouattara. Gbagbo alleged voter fraud and said he won the election.
“The rebels and their French buddies are just trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” said Paul Gballo, a resident of the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan. “I won’t believe it until I have seen it on state television. This is nonsense.”
Gbagbo tried to nationalize banks and cocoa stocks as sanctions cut off his sources of income. He attacked Ouattara, whose father’s family is from neighboring Burkina Faso, as a foreigner and a tool of French interests and capitalized on resentment from the mainly Christian south toward the country’s predominantly Muslim north.
The former history professor and longtime opponent of ex- dictator Felix Houphouet-Boigny came to power in 2000 after he won an election in which Robert Guei also claimed victory. Thousands of protesting supporters enabled Gbagbo to enforce his victory.
The 2002 uprising and prolonged conflict led to him extending his presidential mandate, which was supposed to end in 2005.
A peace deal signed in 2007 between Gbagbo and the rebel New Forces led to the installment of Guillaume Soro as prime minister. Soro joined Ouattara’s administration after the election.
Ouattara, a former prime minister under Houphouet-Boigny and deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, may still face “sporadic fighting” in Abidjan, said Martin Robert, Africa analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.
“There are going to be pro-Gbagbo neighborhoods that are going to be difficult to pacify,” he said by phone.
Gbagbo “will have to answer for his acts,” said Ouattara’s adviser Appolinaire Yapi after the arrest, declining to provide details.
A trial in Ivory Coast would be “enormously destabilizing,” said IHS’s Robert. “I think they’ll certainly hand him over to some international jurisdiction.”
The U.K.’s Hague said Gbagbo “should be treated with respect and any judicial process that follows should be a fair and properly organized judicial process in Cote d’Ivoire.”
Gbagbo “has been credibly implicated in crimes against humanity and other atrocities for which he should be held to account,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, in an e-mailed statement.
To contact the reporters on this story: Pauline Bax and Olivier Monnier in Abidjan via Accra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at email@example.com.