Reporters Without Borders wrote today to the leader of the New Forces rebel movement, Guillaume Soro, protesting against threats and intimidation by his men towards four journalists from Abidjan during their visit to the rebel stronghold of Bouaké on 14 April to cover high-level talks between the New Forces and government soldiers.
"We are aware that an often partisan press likes to echo the political hatred that exists in Côte d’Ivoire but there is absolutely no justification for men under arms abusing their force and threatening journalists with impunity," the press freedom organization said in its letter.
The organization added: "Violence against the press is often a harbinger of political violence on a larger scale but, as an end to the fighting nowadays again seems to be the objective in Côte d’Ivoire, it would be incomprehensible if the leader of the New Forces did not react publicly to this aggressive behaviour."
The four journalists concerned were Amadou Ziao of L’Inter, Arouna Sylla of Soir’Info, Gbané Yacouba of Le Temps and David Youant of the Courrier d’Abidjan. After covering the meeting in Bouaké between the high commands of the New Forces (FN) and the National Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI), they set off at about 5 p.m. heading back towards the government-controlled south.
According to Charles d’Almeida, the editor of Soir’Info and L’Inter, the four found their way blocked by men in an FN vehicle who ordered their driver, Didier Gragnon, to get out of the car. A uniformed man then got behind the wheel and drove the journalists to the city cemetery. There they were verbally threatened for half an hour by their rebel escorts, who ordered them to kneel and to lie on the ground and to apologise for what they have written.
Yacouba told Reporters Without Borders that a gun was put to his temple and he was told: "You are going to be killed. You write anything you like about us. We don’t want to see you again in Bouaké. If we do, you will be killed."
The journalists’ mobile phones were initially seized but were finally returned. Yacouba said all of his money was taken.
The purpose of the Bouaké talks was to relaunch the disarmament process and begin implementing the Pretoria peace accord.