French judge issues arrest warrant for Ivory Coast parliament speaker

PARIS (Reuters) - A French judge has issued an arrest warrant for Ivory Coast’s parliament speaker Guillaume Soro after he failed to appear in connection with a case brought against him by the former Ivorian president’s son, judicial sources said on Monday.

Guillaume Soro Kigbafori, president of Ivory Coast's parliament and a former leader of Ivory Coast rebellion, smiles during Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara's visit in the city of Mankono, in northwestern Ivory Coast July 24, 2015. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader turned politician, was prime minister when fighters under his command captured Michel Gbagbo, son of Ivory Coast’s ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, at the end of a brief civil war in April 2011.

Held in detention until 2013, Michel Gbagbo filed a complaint in France accusing Soro and other senior figures in the former New Forces rebellion of “kidnapping, false imprisonment and inhumane and degrading treatment”.

Michel Gbagbo holds both French and Ivorian citizenship.

Two judicial sources said French police attempted on Monday to serve the warrant at Soro’s Paris residence. The warrant calls for Soro to be brought before Judge Sabine Khéris after he did not comply with several previous summonses.

However, Soro, who is currently in Paris for climate change talks, was not present.

Lawyers for Soro, who is next in line to replace Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara were he to die in office or be incapacitated, condemned the bench warrant as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

“It is within the limits of diplomatic practice and only within these limits that he will cooperate with the French justice system,” Soro’s legal team said in a statement.

They said Soro had been within his legal rights to arrest Michel Gbagbo, who was captured along with his father at the presidential residence. They rejected allegations that there had been any violence during his detention.

Over 3,000 people were killed in the Ivorian civil war, which was sparked by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his defeat by Ouattara in a run-off election in late 2010.

The former president is currently in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Michel Gbagbo was convicted in March for his role in the violence and sentenced to five years in prison by an Ivorian court. He has appealed against the verdict and is currently free and living in Ivory Coast.

Soro is widely considered a leading candidate to succeed Ouattara, who is due to complete his second and final five-year term as president of the world’s top cocoa grower in 2020.

Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Editing by Mark Heinrich