Ivory Coast: Detainees charge torture by military

By Robbie Corey-boulet

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2012 file photo, Ivory Coast troops patrol around the Cocody area in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Witnesses interviewed by the AP between Sept. 26 and Sept. 28, 2012 charge that Ivory Coast's military is torturing scores of people accused of taking part in recent attacks. The roundup of detainees is in response to a series of attacks on Ivory Coast's military that have sparked fears of renewed violence in the West African country.

Emanuel Ekra, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN PEDRO, Ivory Coast — The soldiers lined up the detainees in a row on the grass in the middle of the night and beat them with sticks. Other times, soldiers struck the prisoners with belts and rifles so hard the welts lasted for weeks.

Cedric Bao, a 33-year-old who was held for two weeks in August on suspicion of hiding weapons, said soldiers also attached wires to detainees and administered electrical shocks as they writhed on the ground.

"When that happened, the wires would produce a lot of noise, and the lights would flicker, and it would smell like burning. We could hear the people shouting," Bao said. "I was always praying to God not to be brought downstairs."

Ivory Coast's military has launched a widespread campaign of arrests and detentions, charge former detainees and human rights groups. Scores of Ivorians like Bao are being rounded up on allegations of involvement in recent attacks on the military or of otherwise attempting to undermine state security.

Since early August, Ivory Coast's military has been targeted in nine attacks by shadowy gunmen that have sparked fears of renewed violence in this West African nation, the world's largest cocoa producer.

President Alassane Ouattara's government has blamed the attacks on allies of former President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to concede defeat in the November 2010 election sparked six months of violence that claimed at least 3,000 lives.

The country's U.N. mission said in mid-August that 100 arrests of those suspected of the attacks had been documented. A U.N. official, who is not authorized to speak for the mission, said this week that that number had more than doubled.

While torture allegations have been documented at multiple military facilities, the U.N. officials said that some of the worst came from detainees at the San Pedro camp, including credible reports of electrical shocks.

Few detainees in the city had spoken up about their experiences at the camp because of threats they received before being released, said Serges Dagbo, San Pedro representative for the Ivorian Human Rights League.

But in recent interviews with The Associated Press, four former detainees described harsh conditions marked by cramped quarters, minimal food and the frequent use of violence to extract confessions.

Like other detainees, 40-year-old Plika Sokouli said he was never told exactly why he was arrested in late August at the stand where he sells pineapples and homemade liquor.

But he said the threat of violence was apparent as soon as he arrived at the camp.

"When I got there a guard took a pistol and put it in my mouth and told me to speak," he said. "I said I knew nothing."

Christian Hino, a 34-year-old former gas station attendant who is currently jobless, said eight detainees were handcuffed before being subjected to one-on-one torture sessions, which lasted up to 25 minutes.

Of those, he said, four were laid down on the grass outside the camp's main building, and long wires were attached to their feet, midsections and necks before electrical shocks were administered.

"At around 4 a.m., a policeman who was arrested became unconscious from the electrocution," Hino said. "I was really afraid. He was not reacting. People were wondering if he was dead."

The camp's top official, Capt. Sekou Bema Ouattara, denied allegations of physical abuse, and claimed prisoners had never been held there for longer than a day or so.

Still, he defended the military's campaign to root out enemies of the state among the local population.

"It's because of our determination and work that San Pedro has not been attacked," he said.

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