ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast's military tribunal on Thursday handed down the first verdict related to last year's post-election conflict, finding five men guilty in the kidnapping and murder of a colonel who died at the height of the violence in March 2011.
The most high-profile suspect in the case - Gen. Bruno Dogbo Ble, the feared former head of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo's Republican Guard - received a 15-year sentence, said Kady Fofana, communications chief for the tribunal. Four other men received sentences of five to 15 years, she said.
The violence erupted after Gbagbo refused to cede office despite losing the November 2010 presidential runoff vote to now-President Alassane Ouattara.
Col. Adama Dosso was detained in late March 2011 while leaving Abidjan's Golf Hotel, where Ouattara had based his headquarters during the standoff with Gbagbo.
During the trial, Jean Noel Leo Lago, a soldier who also was sentenced to 15 years, testified he killed the colonel, saying Ble had ordered the operation. Ble denied the claim.
Mathurin Djirabou, a lawyer for Ble, said Thursday night that he believed the verdict was flawed. "It's an accusation which is only based on the declaration of a soldier," Djirabou said. "And this soldier has had contradictions several times in his testimony."
Ble's chief of staff, Cmdr. Yagba Kipre, received a 15-year sentence; Sgt. Ferdinand Toh received a 12-year sentence and Sgt. Noel Toualy received a five-year sentence for their roles in the operation.
Ble was one of 13 leaders implicated by Human Rights Watch in grave crimes committed during the post-election violence, which claimed at least 3,000 lives. The rights group's report on the violence said he had committed abuses that "likely constitute crimes against humanity," including enforced disappearances and the persecution of West African immigrants.
Ivory Coast's civilian court system has charged him with a range of other crimes stemming from the violence, including genocide.
Despite evidence that both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara fighters committed grave crimes during the conflict, only Gbagbo supporters have been charged by both national and international courts, sparking allegations of victor's justice. More than 100 Gbagbo loyalists have been detained throughout Ivory Coast and are awaiting trial.
In November 2011, Gbagbo became the first former head of state to be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he will be tried on charges of crimes against humanity.