Pro-Gbagbo exile arrested, returned to Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN Tue Feb 5, 2013 4:25pm EST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - An ally of Ivory Coast's ex-president accused of organizing a series of deadly raids from exile has been arrested in Ghana and handed over to Ivorian authorities, Ivorian government and security officials said on Tuesday.

Jean-Noel Abehi was the head of Laurent Gbagbo's elite mobile gendarme squadron and fought for the former president during a brief 2011 conflict triggered by Gbagbo's refusal to accept the election victory of rival Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo, now facing trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity, was arrested by Ouattara's French-backed rebel supporters at the end of the fighting.

Abehi fled to neighboring Ghana, where he was arrested on Monday.

A U.N. experts panel last year cited Abehi as one of the leading Ghana-based, pro-Gbagbo exiles behind a series of more than two dozen armed raids on security installations and infrastructure in Ivory Coast that began last August.

"During a joint police operation between Ivory Coast and Ghana, several individuals were apprehended ... among them Commander Jean-Noel Abehi," Ivory Coast's Interior Ministry said in a statement read on state television.

"He is currently being held in Ivory Coast as part of judicial proceedings opened against him," the statement said.

Other security officials said Abehi had been arrested along with Jean-Yves Dibopieu, the former head of a pro-Gbagbo student union linked to years of street violence and deeply involved in the 2011 fighting.

"They've been in Abidjan since this morning. It is sensitive, because Commander Abehi is a very dangerous element," an officer at Ivory Coast's police headquarters told Reuters.

"We don't want their accomplices to try anything, that is why we are being discreet. But they are in a secure and well-guarded location," he said.

Gbagbo supporters accuse Ouattara of using the attacks on security installations as a pretext for a crackdown on the opposition that rights groups say has included illegal arrests and torture.

"This wasn't an extradition. No legal procedures were followed. These were illegal and clandestine transfers of refugees to a country that practices torture," said Toussaint Alain, a former adviser to Gbagbo now living in France.

While Ghana had previously stated it considered Gbagbo's exiled supporters to be refugees, last month it arrested and handed over Charles Ble Goude, head of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots street militia.

Gbagbo's former Budget Minister Justin Kone Katinan was also arrested in Ghana. His extradition case is before the courts.

Rinaldo Depagne, Ivory Coast researcher for the International Crisis Group, said Ghana's new willingness to take action against pro-Gbagbo figures was linked to the election in December of new President John Dramani Mahama.

"The new Ghanaian president has a better grip on the situation. He doesn't want bad relations with his neighbor," Depagne said.

"I think some, the most dangerous, will be arrested. And some will come back into the political game. The others will be forgotten."

(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams and Pravin Char)

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