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Military Mutiny in Ivory Coast Capital Kills Former Top Junta Leader Guei

By Douglas Farah
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Troops loyal to the president of Ivory Coast put down a bloody mutiny by hundreds of soldiers Thursday, killing a former military ruler and shattering hopes that this once-stable West African nation was leaving behind two years of political turbulence.

Ivorian officials reached by telephone said at least 20 people were killed in fighting in the commercial capital of Abidjan, including Robert Guei, the ex-junta leader, whose role in the uprising was unclear. Interior Minister Emile Boga Doudou was also killed when his house was stormed by rebel troops.

President Laurent Gbagbo cut short a visit to Italy to return home. Officials said it was not known how many people had been killed outside of Abidjan.

In a nationally televised address, the defense minister, Lida Moise Kouassi, said the government had quelled an attempted coup and the situation was “under control.”

“All the armed forces have been mobilized,” Kouassi said after national television and radio service was resumed after being blacked out for 12 hours. The government also closed the international airport in Abidjan and imposed a curfew from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

While the situation appeared to be stable in Abidjan, the nation’s largest city, pockets of resistance were reported in the second-largest city of Bouake and a rebel stronghold of Korhgo. France, the former colonial power, maintains a battalion of several hundred troops near the airport, but they didn’t intervene, U.S. and Ivorian officials said.

The fighting, which began at 3 a.m., was apparently precipitated by Gbagbo’s announcement two weeks ago that he was forcing the retirement of about 750 soldiers from units that were known for their loyalty to Guei.

While many of the men left the army, the officials said, they refused to turn in their weapons, apparently stashing them for use in the uprising. Officials in Abidjan said the rebels were armed with automatic rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Guei seized power in a bloody coup in December 1999, the first military uprising in Ivory Coast’s history. The country was ruled from its independence from France in 1960 until 1993 by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who built a relatively prosperous country and united the nation across deep ethnic and cultural divides.

The 1999 uprising was also led by disgruntled enlisted men, and it toppled the elected but corrupt government of Henri Konan Bedie.

The 1999 coup shocked West Africa because Ivory Coast had been an island of stability in the region, which saw continuous military coups and a bloody civil war in neighboring Liberia.