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the trial of three pilots opens in Paris

                Nine French soldiers from Operation Licorne and an American civilian were killed in the bombardment of the Bouaké camp in Côte d'Ivoire on November 6, 2004. A former Belarusian mercenary and two Ivorian officers are on trial from Monday in Paris in this case which still has many gray areas.

                                    <p>It is a nebulous dossier, still far from having revealed all its secrets.  A former Belarusian mercenary and two Ivorian officers will be tried in absentia in Paris from Monday March 29 for the bombing of Bouaké in 2004, at the origin of an unprecedented crisis between France and Côte d'Ivoire.

In early November 2004, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo went on the offensive in an attempt to reunify his country, cut in two for two years and an attempted rebel coup. Its planes pounded the rebel positions towards the North, under the anxious eye of the French peace forces deployed since 2002 between the two camps to avoid a civil war.

On November 6 at around 1:20 p.m., two Ivorian hunters flew over a French camp at Bouaké (Center) at low altitude. Suddenly, one of them dives and fires rockets. On the ground, it is panic, then horror and astonishment: we deplore nine French soldiers and an American civilian killed, as well as forty wounded.

In retaliation, Paris destroyed the entire Ivorian military aviation the same day, ruining its ongoing offensive. Relations between Paris and its former colony, historically very close, ignite.

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One of the two Sukhoi-25 planes destroyed in retaliation by the French army on the tarmac at Yamoussoukro airport, on November 13, 2004. © Pascal Guyot, AFP
    </div>In the days that followed, violent anti-French demonstrations rocked the south of the country.  From one day to the next, thousands of expatriates returned to France in disaster, flanked by the French troops.

On November 10, in the courtyard of the Invalides in Paris, President Jacques Chirac pays solemn tribute to the soldiers killed in Bouaké. “We won’t forget you,” he promises. But fifteen years later, their murderers are still running.

>> To (re) see on France 24: REPORTERS – Fifteen years after the bombing of Bouaké, the mysteries of a trial

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After bombing the French camp, the two Ivorian Sukhoï-25s landed at the airport near Yamoussoukro. On the tarmac, their crews – Belarusian mercenary pilots employed by the Ivorian army and their Ivorian co-pilots – are photographed and filmed by the French intelligence services.

Suspects released

Three men are accused by French justice, on the basis of numerous testimonies, of having perpetrated or supervised the bombardment: the Belarusian Yury Sushkin and the Ivorians Ange Magloire Gnanduillet Attualy and Patrice Ouei.

Tried for murder, they are the only defendants in the trial which opens Monday for three weeks before the Paris Assize Court, where they face life imprisonment. In their absence, because they fled and were almost never arrested …

On November 16, 2004, eight Belarusians from Côte d’Ivoire, including Yury Sushkin, were arrested in Togo, which made them available to the French authorities. But these, curiously, answer him to release them.

Already in the aftermath of the attack, fifteen Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian mercenaries were arrested by French soldiers in Abidjan. But the group, which could include potential suspects, was released four days later.

According to the instruction, French embassies, soldiers and intelligence agents had all been instructed not to “get involved” in this affair. Some explained that the priority at the moment was to protect the French in Côte d’Ivoire.

>> Read also on France 24: Emmanuel Macron pays tribute to the French soldiers killed in Bouaké 15 years ago

“French manipulation”

The investigators also examined the role of three ministers at the time, Michèle Alliot-Marie (Defense), Dominique de Villepin (Interior) and Michel Barnier (Foreign Affairs). But justice refused to seize the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), the only one empowered to judge ministers. They are nevertheless summoned to appear at the trial, as witnesses.

The investigation was therefore confined to the alleged perpetrators, Belarusians and Ivorians. Without being able to answer the questions that have haunted the families of victims for fifteen years: who gave the order to bomb the French and why?

The French ministers and staff have always favored the hypothesis of an Ivorian “blunder” organized by Laurent Gbagbo or his entourage to make people forget their military offensive which was slipping, or to break definitively with France.

Civil parties side, the feeling of a legal fiasco feeds bitterness, even anger. And sometimes the suspicion, over the procrastination and contradictory statements of French officials.

Some of the relatives of the victims and the Gbagbo clan suspect a “French manipulation” that would have gone wrong, a plan organized to trigger a French reaction and overthrow the Ivorian president, deemed not to be docile enough, and replace him with his rival Alassane Ouattara.

The latter will succeed Laurent Gbagbo, ousted from power in 2011 with the military support of Paris after a contested presidential election.

Me Jean Balan, lawyer for several families of victims, denounces a hidden agenda of former French ministers, who deny it outright. “This is the only logical explanation for their relentlessness to cover up the affair and hide the truth,” he said.

With AFP


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