Journalist killed covering violent clashes

New York, November 12, 2004—Antoine Massé, a correspondent for the private daily Le Courrier d’Abidjan, was fatally shot November 7 while covering violent clashes between French troops and demonstrators in the western Ivoirian town of Duékoué, his editor told the Committee to Protect Journalists today. CPJ called on French and Ivoirian authorities to conduct thorough investigations.

Le Courrier d’Abidjan editor Théophile Kouamouo told CPJ that Massé was among several people killed during a demonstration by the pro-government group “Young Patriots,” which opposed the movement of French peacekeeping troops from the west to the commercial capital, Abidjan. The demonstration came amid several days of unrest in this former French colony during which at least 27 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured, The Associated Press reported.

The turmoil began November 6 after an Ivory Coast air strike against French peacekeepers killed nine soldiers and a U.S. aid worker. France, which had been overseeing a fragile cease-fire between rebel and government forces, retaliated by destroying the country’s military aircraft—sparking an uprising by loyalist youths in the south who took to the streets armed with machetes, iron bars, and clubs. France and other nations began evacuating thousands of foreigners this week.

Kouamouo, whose newspaper is considered sympathetic to President Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivoirian Patriotic Front (FPI) party, claimed that French troops had opened fire during the November 7 clash in Duékoué. French military officials did not comment directly on Massé’s death, although French Gen. Henri Bentegeat acknowledged Friday that his soldiers had opened fire in certain cases to hold back violent mobs, the AP reported.

But Bentegeat told Europe-1 radio that the soldiers did “the absolute minimum” in self-defense and claimed that gunmen among the demonstrators had caused “a very large number” of the casualties.

“We mourn the death of our colleague, who has lost his life covering the tragic events in Ivory Coast,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on French and Ivoirian authorities to conduct thorough investigations and to make their findings public.”

France and Ivory Coast have a bilateral agreement on judicial cooperation dating to Ivoirian independence in 1960.