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Former Ivory Coast president charged in violent aftermath of elections

By Monica Mark, For CNN
Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, after their arrest on April 11, 2011.
Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, after their arrest on April 11, 2011.
  • The former president refused to accept his loss at the polls to Alassane Outtara
  • Thousands were killed in the post-election violence
  • Both sides have been accused of potential crimes against humanity

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has been charged with economic crimes committed as post-election violence consumed the country this year and left some 3,000 people dead, but human rights groups said Friday that more serious allegations of war crimes by both sides of the conflict should be investigated.

Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, have been charged with looting, armed robbery and embezzlement, state prosecutor Koffi Simplice said.

Human Rights Watch applauded the charges, but indicated that the former ruling couple should be facing tougher allegations.

"We welcome that there are now charges against them, because it's important from a rule of law point of view," said Jean-Marie Fardeau, a Human Right Watch analyst Friday. However, he added, the economic charges were only "a small part" of the crimes that the Gbagbos are believed to have committed.

Human rights groups say both sides committed potential crimes against humanity during the six post-electoral conflict, and they have warned Ouattara's government against implementing a one-sided justice. No members of Ouattara's forces have been charged.

"We will continue to ask for an end to impunity for all those who are guilty of crimes, including those from (pro-Ouattera forces) who haven't been indicted or even investigated," Fardeau said.

The Gbagbos and 11 former senior officials had been under house arrest since Gbagbo was ousted in April. A colonial-era law had been invoked to keep them under arrest without charge. A western diplomat said there could be "complications" in charging Gbagbo at national courts as he is granted certain immunities as a former head of state.

Gbagbo and his wife were pulled from a basement in the presidential palace on April 11 after Gbagbo refused to accept losing a November poll to his contender, Alassane Ouattara. During the six months of post-electoral violence that followed, hundreds of perceived Ouattara supporters disappeared, and pro-Ouattara neighborhoods came under attack from pro-Gbagbo state security forces. The United Nations said Simone Gbagbo was behind the feared "death squads" that targeted her husband's political opponents.

Gbagbo is accused of illegally siphoning funds from the central bank. In January, his gunmen allegedly stole millions of dollars from the central bank in the commercial capital of Abidjan in January, causing the nation's economy to grind to a halt.

"With the indictment of the Gbagbo couple, all those being held under house arrest are now in state custody," Koffi said.

Gbagbo and his wife currently remain in their respective towns of Korhogo and Odienne, both in the staunchly pro-Ouattara north. The country's jails were broken open during the crisis, with the main jail in Abidjan re-opening for the first time this week.

"We're not best pleased with the indictment. Their detention is illegal and we are being kept in the dark about all the procedures. The judiciary process is being carried out in a secretive manner that isn't acceptable," Augustin Guehoum, a spokesman for Gbagbo's political party, told CNN.

The decision to charge the Gbagbos with economic crimes leaves the International Criminal Court to deal with the more sensitive "blood crimes" for which they are suspected. The ICC has opened a preliminary investigation, but a case could take years to build.

Gen. Dogbo Ble, a former Republican Guard commander, was also in custody for arranging the kidnapping of four foreigners from Abidjan's expensive Novotel hotel during the last days of the battle for Abidjan. The hotel manager, Stephane Frantz di Rippel, French company director Yves Lambelin and two others were abducted when gunmen stormed the hotel, and were transported to the presidential palace. The bodies of two of the victims were later found dumped in the city's lagoon.

Almost 60 soldiers from Gbagbo's regime were charged last week with crimes relating to attacking state security.