Both the so-called Republican Forces loyal to the new Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara and French officials have been at great pains to insist that deposed president Laurent Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara’s troops and not by French troops. This is not what was initially reported. But, in any case, as an article in Tuesday’s edition of the French daily Libération puts it, “nobody is fooled.”
The capture of Gbagbo on Monday afternoon was preceded by an assault on the presidential residence in Abidjan, involving a reported four French helicopter gunships, 30 French tanks, and 200-250 French troops. According to Libération, the presidential residence was “largely destroyed and the grounds were strewn with the bodies of soldiers.” Much of the heavy weaponry of the Gbagbo loyalist Ivoirian armed forces had already been destroyed in prior French attacks.
“Of course, the French did everything,” an unnamed source told Libération, “They called in the Republican Forces at the end to collect him.” The source is identified as being “close” to Gbagbo. But a “western military source” went even further, saying outright that it was UN and French forces that seized Gbagbo and then turned him over to “the legitimate authorities of the Côte d’Ivoire [i.e. the pro-Ouattara forces].”
According to a report in the French daily Le Monde, the presidential residence was on fire Monday morning after being struck by a French missile the night before. Despite the French air and artillery barrage, however, the pro-Ouattara forces were still incapable of entering the residence on their own. “We had to blow a hole in the wall [of the residence], so that they could go in,” a French soldier told Le Monde.
“It is not France’s mission to oust Laurent Gbagbo using military force,” Sarkozy advisor Henri Guaino told France 2 public television on Monday. But mission or not, this is clearly what France did.