Four killed as missile strikes aircraft carrying Ivory Coast PM Guillaume Soro

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast, Guillaume Soro, has escaped uninjured after a missile struck his aircraft upon landing at Bouaké Airport, Ivory Coast, killing four others, according to eyewitnesses.

According to a United Nations (UN) employee who saw the attack, a total of three missiles were fired. One struck and rebounded off the fuselage and failed to explode, one flew over the top of the aircraft and exploded nearby and one burst through the fuselage and exploded inside the cabin. There were also some gunshots fired.

Shortly after the attack, the Forces Nouvelles de Côte d'Ivoire (New Forces of the Ivory Coast) announced several arrests had been made in connection to the failed assassination attempt.

One male New Forces administrative assistant from on board the plane who refused to be identified spoke to the media via telephone from a local hospital where he was being treated for an injury to his arm, and gave the following account of the attack: "There was an explosion and it was panic. The plane had just landed and we waited until the plane came to a stop. We tried to calm people down until the plane stopped...Those who fired must have been in the bush. I didn't see anyone. I don't know if anyone saw them."

Allan Aliali, a journalist on board to cover the arrival of Soro, described seeing three dead bodies in the plane, but was unable to identify them. This was later confirmed by New Forces spokesman Sidiki Konate, who said a fourth victim died later from his injuries.

A planned ceremony to mark the official return of magistrates to the north under an Ivory Cost peace deal went ahead as scheduled, after which Konate told reporters "Be assured, the most important thing for us is to advance in this peace process and nothing can stop us. This process cannot be assassinated,".

Currently, there is a military buffer zone splitting the country in two and policed by the UN, but a new peace deal in March is leading to progress in dismantling it.

The UN security council condemned the attack, and urged all involved in the current power conflict to respect the peace deal there. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also gave his personal condemnation of the attack, saying that the peace deal "represents a unique opportunity for a peaceful solution to the protracted Ivorian crisis." The UN security council said it condemned and any attempt to destabilize the peace process by force" and that "The perpetrators of this criminal act must be brought to justice...(it is) critical that all parties continue to work within the framework of the March 4 peace agreement."

Security was stepped up in Bouaké after the attack, with a security cordon set up around the New Forces headquarters, troops deployed at the airport and roadblocks set up at various points across the city. Meanwhile, in London and New York prices for cocoa, which the Ivory Coast is the biggest supplier of, rose to their highest levels in four years as news of the attack came through.

International Crisis Group analyst Gilles Yabi said of the attack "It's too soon to know who was responsible, but clearly we're thinking about people in Soro's own movement who are not happy with the way things have turned out...The agreement was a real step forward in the peace process, but it was still fragile because the (citizen) identification process had not yet begun...and of course because of tensions in the rebel [New Forces] camp".