Reporters Without Borders said it appeared that the Ivorian authorities are blocking a French legal investigation into the disappearance of French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer.
In a letter, sent 21 May to the state prosecutor in Abidjan, the French examining magistrate, Patrick Ramael complained of "a total block on [his] investigations".
Michel Legré, brother-in-law of President Laurent Gbagbo’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, was the last person to have seen Kieffer before his disappearance. In two interviews with Ramael, he gave him the names of at least eight people, whom he said were involved in kidnapping the journalist.
Ramael has said that his "requests to interview those named by Legré are getting nowhere". In his letter he "formally asked the prosecutor to intervene to ensure questioning of people whose evidence is essential to get at the truth."
Those involved are: Sery Lia, a member of the military who reportedly kidnapped Kieffer; Gouamene, an army captain; Aubert Zohore, head of the private office of Economy and Finance minister, Victor Nembelissini, managing director of the national investment bank, Patrice Bailly, head of presidential security, Anselme Seka Yapo, head of security for Mrs Gbagbo, Bertin Gahié Kadet, presidential adviser on defence and Moise Kore, who calls himself Gbagbo’s priest.
Still according to Michel Legré, several men snatched Kieffer from the car park of an Abidjan commercial centre, bundled him into a green four-wheel drive vehicle that took him to a military camp on the orders of Patrice Bailly.
"Impunity seems unfortunately to remain the rule in Cote d’Ivoire," Reporters Without Borders protested. "It is now essential that the Ivorian authorities show renewed commitment to the legal and police co-operation needed to pursue the inquiry and to the safety of witnesses.
Reporters Without Borders and its lawyers, Jean Martin and Guillaume Prigent, expect an official and immediate reply and hope the authorities will ensure that the summonses sought by Ramael are put into effect. Finally, the international press freedom organisation called on the French authorities to convince their Ivorian counterparts of the need for co-operation with the inquiry.
The wife of the missing journalist, Osange Silou-Kieffer, has expressed her disappointment following a meeting with the examining magistrate on 25 May.
"The highest Ivorian authorities, even President Gbagbo, promised me there would be no obstruction of the investigation and that everyone involved in the case could be questioned," she said, adding, "I demand an explanation."
Ramael has said that it was not Kieffer who drove the car found abandoned at the airport. The magistrate said the seat had been pulled forward, showing that it was someone smaller who had driven the car to the airport car park.
Nothing has been heard of the Abidjan-based freelance journalist since 16 April 2004. He was seen for the last time at around 1pm in a commercial centre in the capital. His mobile phone has been cut off and he has not contacted anyone.
The 54-year-old, who is father of two children, is specialised in raw materials and economic and financial affairs. He worked for the French economic daily La Tribune from 1984 to the beginning of 2002. He worked since that date as a freelance in Abidjan, reporting for La Lettre du Continent and several Ivorian newspapers.