The former Security Operations Command Center (CECOS) boss, now a prosecution witness considered central in the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial, former Major-General Georges Guiai Bi Poin was questioned at length today about the December 16, 2010 march on the Ivorian Radio and Television (RTI).
After being rushed by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, prosecution lawyer Melissa Pack had warned on Tuesday: “Things are progressing slower than expected. I still have three months of crisis to go through.”
While the counter already showed seven hours of interrogation, the Italian judge told her: “I give you until tomorrow to finish.” Juggling with bundles of classified and highlighted documents, Pack, who had promised to do her best, could not complete her interrogation at the scheduled time Thursday evening.
A detailed plan presented to the General Staff two days before the march
The day opened on the march on the RTI by Alassane Ouattara’s supporters. Pack then went back in the course of events and General Guiai Bi Poin, very much involved in his testimony and quite generous with details, answered her many questions in a precise way. He repeatedly indicated that the security system and the conduct of operations to prevent this march had been entrusted to the Director General of the National Police, Brédou M’Bia. “He had sole responsibility for the operations of that day as a whole. According to the principle of unified command, none of the other generals should interfere, and they should place at his disposal the men he needed.”
Two days before the march, M’Bia reportedly presented the details of his plan and the needs arising from it at a General Staff meeting.
In his testimony last February, M’Bia gave another version of the facts. He had in fact declared that he had been informed of the march only on the same day by its organizers and had then taken “vague provisions in Abidjan.” He also said that “the police chief, supported by the Director of Intervention Units Claude Yoro, was the Head of operations.”
According to Guiai Bi Poin, the objective of the said plan was “to avoid any gathering on the public highway and to reinforce sensitive places,” such as the RTI, the plateau, and the barracks. In the various places where they were deployed, the men were armed with “shields, sticks, tear gas grenades, smoke grenades, deafening grenades, and kalaches. The vehicles were equipped with machine guns and kalaches. But the arms were to be used only in self-defense.”
FDS “charred” in their vehicles
Guiai Bi Poin reiterated that the CECOS men on that day, and “especially the BMO elements made available” were not under his responsibility “but under that of the Director General of Police.” On D-Day he declared that he was at the Gendarmerie School. “I followed the day on the radio but not too closely, with my cell phone in case the Chief of Staff tried to reach me.”
Pack then returned to civilians wounded and killed during the event. “Let’s be careful, the people who were considered civilians were armed,” said the witness, the term “civilian” having been debated in the courtroom. According to him, the “exhaustive” report established at the end of this bloody day focused mainly on the “six” members of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) killed.
“Some were burnt in their vehicles in Abobo, with anti-tank rockets. It was above all the deaths of our men with these weapons of war, which had nothing to do in a march that struck us and greatly moved us. It was on this that the Director of Police heavily dwelt. He reported that there were armed people everywhere in the crowd of marchers and that they were shooting at the FDS,” said Guiai Bi Poin. There was no investigation into the victims, whether they were marchers or FDS members.
The situation of the FDS after the elections was one of the points examined through mentioning several meetings between the generals and the chief of staff, the president, and sometimes his ministers. “The wind was turning against us, we were no longer in a position of strength,” Guiai Bi Poin recounted after referring to the deaths of four CECOS soldiers in February 2011.
The lack of men, weapons, and ammunition was then felt. “They also complained about UNOCI, which seemed less and less impartial, and took the side of the Invisible Commando. We had reason to believe that UNOCI was flying over our positions and communicating them,” he testified.
“War zone means leveling everything to the ground”
“What were the solutions put forward by the president?” continued Pack.
Guiai Bi Poin said, “He never got into the details of military operations. He congratulated and encouraged the FDS, told us to strengthen our positions and not to lose Abobo. Attacked, we were always in an offensive or counter-offensive position.”
“Who was in favor of declaring Abobo a war zone?” Pack inquired.
The former head of the Gendarmerie, Edouard Kassaraté, had ascribed the idea to Laurent Gbagbo, but General Guiai Bi Poin attributed it to the chief of staff as an option studied, debated, and then condemned by all generals: “In Abobo, nothing distinguished the Invisible Commando from the population it had infiltrated and used as a human shield. Our mission was to secure, not to kill people.”
“What could have been the positive aspects of this decision?” Pack wanted to know.
“None. A zone of war means that one enters the enemy zone and levels everything to the ground. That would have meant too much human damage, and it would have been necessary to respond.”
Guiai Bi Poin also said that on many occasions Gbagbo had called for a recount of votes.
Wednesday evening, after a lengthy interrogation, the extensive account of the former head of CECOS apparently at no time implicated the former president of Côte d’Ivoire. The prosecution’s case, in relation to a parallel command or a common plan put in place by Gbagbo, was therefore not supported by this new witness, even though he was requested by the prosecution.
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.