Attacks on Ivory Coast’s military were meant to disrupt security before a national holiday, with officials looking into a possible link with a postponed appearance by ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court, according to a government official.
There’s a “will from the assailants to disrupt the celebration of Independence Day so as to show security is missing in the country,” Paul Koffi Koffi, the minister delegate for defense, said today. Authorities are investigating the proximity “of the attacks with the hearing of the former president,” which had been scheduled for next week, he said.
At least five soldiers were killed and another is missing after an attack on Akouedo, a base in Abidjan, the commercial capital, at 3:30 a.m. today, he said in a phone interview. The fighting lasted for three hours and one of the attackers was killed, Koffi Koffi said.
The clash in the world’s biggest cocoa producer comes after unidentified gunmen, dressed in army fatigues, killed five soldiers yesterday in two attacks against an Abidjan police station and an army checkpoint. The violence is extending a decade of unrest and political crisis in the West African nation, which began with a mutinous uprising of soldiers in 2002, which left the country divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.
At least 3,000 people were killed in post-election violence sparked after Gbagbo refused to hand power to Alassane Ouattara, who won a November 2010 vote. Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011 and faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. Akouedo was bombed by French and United Nations forces during the conflict.
An appearance to confirm charges against him, planned for Aug. 13, was postponed last week to allow the prosecution and defense to submit observations on a medical evaluation meant to determine whether Gbagbo is fit to stand trial, according to The Hague-based court.
The death toll from today’s attack may be as high as seven, with a dozen seriously injured, Bert Koenders, head of the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, said in an e-mailed statement.
About 30 unidentified men entered the base through two entrances and were wearing military fatigues as well as civilian clothes, said Koffi Koffi. Some were arrested and some Ivorian soldiers are being questioned, he said.
“There’s no doubt the attack has been carried out with the help of soldiers inside the camp,” Koffi Koffi said.
Ouattara held a meeting with army and government officials earlier in the day and “gave firm directions that aim to reinforce security throughout the country,” Koffi Koffi said.
Ivorians celebrate 52 years of independence from colonial ruler France tomorrow.