Thursday was the sixth and final day of testimony for General Edouard Tiapé Kassaraté, second senior officer of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) in the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial. The defense closed their interrogation earlier than expected, which may indicate satisfaction with the witness’s answers.
Edouard Tiapé Kassaraté’s testimony at the International Criminal Court, which was to last until Friday evening, ended Thursday afternoon. The six-hour hearing that was scheduled lasted half as long. Laurent Gbagbo’s defense concluded their interrogation faster than expected. Charles Blé-Goudé’s defense said that it had no questions to ask the former commander of the Ivorian Gendarmerie and current ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire in Senegal, who worked with Gbagbo throughout his term as President of the Republic.
Invisible Commando Attacks
Continuing his interrogation, Gbagbo’s lead lawyer questioned the witness about a possible intervention “from the American ambassador to persuade the Ivorian generals to rally the Ouattara camp.”
The witness responded: “To my knowledge this has not been the case, and the ambassador has never contacted me. But as I said, two American officers came to ask me if the Gendarmerie was rallying the Ouattara camp. I told them that this was a political debate and that the Gendarmerie was apolitical. ”
Then there was much talk about the Invisible Commando. Emmanuel Altit returned to the failed attack on the Azito thermal power plant, described by Kassaraté as a vital point for Côte d’Ivoire, protected by the Gendarmerie, as was the RTI antenna in Abidjan, which had also been attacked. “The next day we went to the site with the ministers concerned. There were bullet holes but thank goodness the heart of the station had not been hit. ” A newspaper article, shown by the defense, dated this attack between “February 24 and 25, 2011.”
Emmanual Altit then spoke of the attack on the Abidjan Prison (MACA). “The Army and the Gendarmerie had been asked to reinforce its protection,” Kassaraté told prosecution investigators in 2011. A prison located “in the great forest of Abidjan used by the invisible Commando to infiltrate the city. The Commando launched an offensive against the MACA to free the prisoners and advance on Yopougon.”
“How many were released in this attack?” the defense lawyer asked.
“I do not know, but it was an overcrowded prison,” Kassaraté responded. A video excerpt is then broadcast, on which a restless man is pleased to have “cleaned up Yopougon.”
“Who speaks, is it IB?” questions the defense. “We can’t see well, I don’t know, but I confirm that there was an Invisible Commando offensive on the prison.”
Kassaraté comes to testify by order of Soro
Altit returned this morning to the positions and actions of the ex-rebels and especially their advances from the north to the south of the country during the crisis. “In the three zones of progression, were there exactions committed on the population?”
“I was not an eyewitness, but at home in Tabou, there were many abuses. Some thirty young men were shot before their parents.” Troops in which “Dozos” were active, said the witness, adding: “There were also Burkinabes and Malians.”
The course of the interrogation then shifted to the relationship between the witness and the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). General Karassaté, who has been Ambassador in Dakar since July 2011 following his appointment by Alassane Ouattara, said he bought his own plane ticket three or four times to meet investigators in Abidjan hotels, first in August and October 2011, and to testify without a lawyer at his side. “I did not feel the need,” he explained.
He went on to say that the pro Office had given him 45,000 CFA francs (68 Euros) about a month ago “to prepare his trip.”
The witness then revealed that contact with the OTP was made through Guillaume Soro, Gbagbo’s Prime Minister until December 2010, and also Ouattara’s Prime Minister, then Minister of Defense, before he became Speaker the National Assembly in March 2012.
“Soro Guillaume called me to tell me that the investigators would be in Abidjan and that we would make ourselves available. It was an order from a minister, and I executed it,” said the man who, only a few days earlier, had said he had come to testify freely.
In his testimony in 2011, Kassaraté pointed out that Soro, in this injunction to testify had called him “Papa.” He explained it today by revealing that he was very close to Soro and Blé Goudé, both born in 1972 and who, during their studies had joined the student federation called FESCI. “We are old relationships. In their beginnings as students in need, we provided them with shelter and food.”
“A war zone, an idea of Laurent Gbagbo”
Blé Goudé’s defense then took the floor for only one minute to specify that they had no additional questions to ask the witness. Before concluding, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser returned to the security of Abobo station, which was discussed in a meeting with Gbagbo in February 2011.
Kassaraté then explained that General Detoh Letoh had been appointed Chief of Security Operations by the Chief of Staff Philippe Mangou, just as this same Detoh Letoh had, on December 16, 2010, headed a structure intended “to prevent the marchers from reaching the RTI” and where “the General Staff had deployed its troops concentrically.”
“At the same meeting, you said that Abobo had been declared a war zone,” Tarfusser said.
“Yes, it was an idea issued by the Head of State, but it was found that it was not possible and the idea was abandoned,” Kassaraté said.
“What consequence would that have had on the military situation?”
“This was to drive the enemy out of an occupied area, but since the Invisible Commando had infiltrated the population, we wanted to avoid collateral damage.”
During these six days in The Hague and this long awaited testimony, Kassaraté, a person who was to be a key witness for the OTP, was in fact of more use to the defense, a defense whose strategy was to demonstrate the extent the Ivorian Gendarmerie was a benighted, under-resourced structure, and to question this former senior FDS official on the actions of the ex-rebels and the Invisible Commando. General Kassaraté, who very often watched Gbagbo during the prosecution’s interrogation, did not testify against him.
Marking a new suspension as this trial entered its second year, the curtain closed on the courtroom of the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé case, to open again on Monday, March 27. P-10, a new witness expected, is a high-level human rights representative to the UN.
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice, a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.