Ivory Coast convicts ex-soldiers for civil war-era expat murders

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - An Ivory Coast court convicted six ex-soldiers for the kidnapping, torture and murder of four foreigners in 2011 during a civil war that following a disputed election, the prosecution said.

Gunmen kidnapped the four victims - two Frenchmen, a Beninese and a Malaysian - from the Novotel hotel in Abidjan in April 2011 and took them to the presidential palace where they were tortured and killed, according to a court statement from the public prosecutor.

The ex-soldiers, sentenced on Thursday evening, were loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo, who triggered the conflict by his refusal in 2010 to accept defeat in a run-off against current President Alassane Ouattara.

The soldiers’ victims included the Novotel’s French manager and French citizen Yves Lambelin, then-president of agro-industrial company Sifca.

Former police chief Osee Loguey was sentenced to 20 years in prison while General Bruno Dogbo Ble, then-commander of the elite Republican Guard, to 18 years.

Four other members of the military were handed sentences of 18 years or shorter for kidnapping, torture and complicity in murder. A further four were acquitted.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the four-month conflict, which ended when Ouattara’s forces, backed by the French army, arrested Gbagbo.

The former president is on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the conflict.

Dogbo Ble’s lawyer Rodrigue Dadje said on Friday his client would lodge an appeal.

“The court made a political decision yesterday concerning General Dogbo Ble who has nothing to do with this affair. This is not justice,” Dadje said.

Ivory Coast has emerged from the conflict as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but a string of army mutinies this year exposed the deep social divisions that still plague it.

Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Joe Bavier and John Stonestreet