Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo flashes two thumbs-up during his inauguration at the presidential palace in Abidjan 4 December, 2010. PHOTO:REUTERS
At the height of a deadly political standoff in Ivory Coast, the former army chief of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo said Tuesday he had pleaded with his boss to step down, warning “too many people have died.”
But in return, Philippe Mangou told the International Criminal Court his house was attacked in March 2011 and he feared he and his family would be the next victims of a five-month wave of violence unleashed after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in presidential polls.
“For just suggesting to the president that he should resign, they wanted to kill me,” Mangou told Gbagbo’s trial in The Hague, on the second day of his testimony for the prosecution.
Gbagbo, 72, and his former militia leader Charles Ble Goude, 45, have pleaded not guilty to four charges, including murder, rape and persecution, arising out of the unrest which wracked the Ivory Coast from December 2010 until early 2011.
About 3,000 people died when rival supporters clashed on the streets of the country’s commercial capital Abidjan, after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by bitter rival Alassane Ouattara in the November presidential polls.
During the turmoil, Gbagbo hunkered down in the presidential palace refusing to leave, while Ouattara and his supporters were barricaded into their headquarters in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.
“Mr President resign,” Mangou said he told Gbagbo at a meeting on March 11, 2011. “Mr President, too many people have already died.”
Praying under attack
But three days later, Mangou’s house in the Yopougon area, a Gbagbo stronghold, was attacked by men “wearing red bandanas, who arrived by taxi and were carrying Kalashnikovs and RPG” rocket-launchers.
“We locked our children in the bedroom,” said Mangou, a father of six. “My wife was calm, she knelt on the bed with the Bible in her hands, praying.”
Later after the gunfire stopped, he told Gbagbo what had happened, who did not offer him any words of compassion saying merely he “had an idea” of who it might have been.
Mangou said he realised then that he was “caught between two camps. My own side which had rejected me, believing I was a traitor, and my other (pro-Ouattara) brothers who were on their way in.”
Named as army chief of staff in 2004, Mangou remained loyal to Gbagbo until the end of the standoff, when the ousted president was arrested by UN and French troops and handed over to the ICC.
The day after Gbagbo was detained on April 11, 2011, Mangou swore allegiance “in the name of all the forces” to the current President Ouattara. He was named the Ivory Coast’s ambassador to Gabon in 2012.
The ageing Gbagbo is the first head of state to be tried by the ICC. His trial opened in January 2016 and is set to last three or four years.
Judges on Tuesday revealed they had denied the 72-year-old’s request to be released from detention for the rest of his trial saying his defence team had failed to “provide concrete and solid conditions that would guarantee” his presence in the courtroom.