On his first day of cross-examination in the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Philippe Mangou made revelations about the Invisible Commando.
“The Money … Was Used for the Infiltration of Zakaria’s Lieutenants”
After a week of exchanges led by the prosecution, Laurent Gbagbo’s defense started its cross-examination of Philippe Mangou, Gbagbo’s former Chief of General Staff. The former boss of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) made important revelations about the Invisible Commando, a militia based in Abobo and Anyama during the 2010-2011 crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.
According to the witness, the group led by Ibrahim Coulibaly, a.k.a. IB, was “accidentally” funded by Gbagbo. Mangou said that Gbagbo, who thought he had turned ex-rebel leader Koné Zakaria to his side, tried to use him to finance an operation to destabilize the pro-Ouattara forces.
“Today I can tell you that President Gbagbo accidentally, I mean accidentally, financed the Invisible Commando,” said Mangou, who is currently the Côte d’Ivoire Ambassador to Gabon.
According to the witness, Désiré Tagro met with ex-rebel leader Koné Zakaria, who agreed to buy arms and ammunition for 500 million CFA to disrupt the Forces Nouvelles system in eastern Côte d’Ivoire.
“I wanted you to see where Koné Zakaria can start his action,” the witness said Gbagbo told him in December 2010. The witness said he initially opposed this approach.
“Mr. President, if you have such a sum of money, please give it to us. You know we do not have neither weapons nor ammunition,” was the answer the witness said he gave to Laurent Gbagbo.
However, Mangou said he was persuaded by Gbagbo and Tagro to join the former warlord based in Vavoua to learn more about the issue. Koné confirmed the deal and then told the witness: “I’m waiting for the money to start work,” Mangou testified.
Finally, Mangou told Judge Cuno Tarfusser’s courtroom that this operation eventually turned against the former Ivorian president.
“Koné Zakaria was going to use cunning and perfidy to make Gbagbo believe that he was going to carry out an action in favor of the northeast. Instead…they went down to Abobo. The money handed over was used to infiltrate Zakaria’s lieutenants,” Mangou said.
According to the witness, Zakaria acted in concert with Ibrahim Coulibaly, who later appeared to be the leader of Invisible Commando.
“Our Men Were Demotivated”
In March 2011, in addition to the Invisible Commando, pro-Gbagbo forces had to face a pro-Ouattara offensive in Abidjan. According to the witness, this attack aimed to force Gbagbo to leave.
“Following the refusal of President Laurent Gbagbo to recognize his defeat, his units went down to Abidjan. I know that at the end of this offensive, they managed to capture the president,” the witness said.
Mangou also said he had asked his troops to withdraw due to the lack of ammunition and the soldiers’ state of mind. “Our men were demotivated, on top of ammunition problems,” he added.
After they retreated, Mangou said he once again spoke of resignation to the former Ivorian president during a meeting with Gbagbo in March. He told Gbagbo that the fight was hopeless.
“You and I talked about your resignation, you did nothing. But in addition we received no ammunition. There’s no point in fighting this war,” Mangou said to Gbagbo.
Mangou was also asked about the presence of mercenaries as well as traditional Dozos hunters among these troops who were descending on Abidjan. The witness testified before the judges that he had no information that could confirm or deny the use of these men by the Ouattara camp.
The Role of the Impartial Forces in Question
A defender of the theory of an international conspiracy against Laurent Gbagbo, Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit often directs his questions in this direction. Altit questioned the witness about the relations between the impartial forces and the soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara.
“Often, either UNOCI, or Licorne conveyed them. We caught them aboard these machines. It was not by units. We found that these people were sometimes transported in UNOCI vehicles,” said the witness, who added that “from 2000 to 2004, the attacks were preceded by a French jeep that looked like it was on reconnaissance.”
Questioned about incidents in November 2004, Mangou recalled the bombing of Bouaké, which led to the destruction of the Ivorian fleet as well as murderous demonstrations in Abidjan. Commander of the Operational Theater at that time, the witness said that the Ivorian authorities were not authorized to have access to the wounded as well as the pilots who had led the offensive.
“We wanted to go to Bouake to see how it happened, they prevented us. We wanted to see the wounded, they said no. We could not have accurate information to see what really happened,” the witness said.
“I Decided to Free my Conscience”
The disappearance of the former Minister of the Interior, Désiré Tagro, was one of the points discussed during Mangou’s testimony. According to Mangou, Koné Zakaria made revelations about the death of Gbagbo’s former right-hand man.
Mangou testified that Zakaria told him, “We got Tagro, but he shot himself in the head.”
The witness said that he was particularly marked by this.
“My conscience keeps niggling at me. I decided today to free my conscience,” he said.
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, 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.