Abidjan - Authorities in Ivory Coast have discovered and prevented a plot to overthrow the government organised by exiled military officers and a close advisor to former president Laurent Gbagbo, the interior minister said late on Tuesday.
The minister, Hamed Bakayoko, said the security services had arrested several participants in the alleged plot and seized documents outlining a plan to topple new President Alassane Ouattara and create a transitional military authority.
During an hour-long interview on national television, Bakayoko played a video recording which he said the plotters had intended to transmit after seizing the headquarters of the broadcaster.
The poorly filmed footage showed several army officers in uniform seated before an Ivorian flag as one of them read a statement announcing the government takeover by a military council.
Bakayoko identified the leader and spokesperson of the group as Colonel Kate Gnotua, a former senior officer in Gbagbo's presidential guard.
“All state institutions are hereby dissolved. All political activities are suspended. A curfew has been put in place until further notice... All land, air and sea borders are closed,” Gnotua read out on the video.
The West African nation is gradually recovering from a brief but brutal civil war that ended last year following a disputed 2010 election.
The UN-certified election was won by Ouattara but Gbagbo, the incumbent, refused to step down until he was defeated by pro-Ouattara forces backed by French and UN troops.
Gbagbo was captured when his residence was overrun in April 2011 and is now in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
Authorities arrested more than one hundred of Gbagbo's supporters in the wake of the violence, but many of his senior military officials and political allies fled into exile, most to neighbouring Ghana, Benin and Togo.
Gnotua was arrested in March after re-entering Ivory Coast from Ghana, Bakayoko said.
Last week authorities in Togo detained Moise Lida Kouassi, an advisor to Gbagbo who once served as defence minister, and extradited him to Ivory Coast.
Bakayoko said Lida Kouassi had been one of the leading organisers of the planned coup before falling out with Gnotua. Details of the plan were found on his computer hard drive, the interior minister said.
“I recognise that... I could have transmitted to the new authorities the information in my possession on what they were preparing,” Lida Kouassi said in a statement aired during the programme. “I am prepared to ask for forgiveness and request clemency from the president.”
Ouattara's government has issued two dozen international arrest warrants for Gbagbo supporters living in exile for alleged crimes committed under his rule or during the post-election crisis. Lida Kouassi's was the first to be acted upon.
“One by one we'll get them. One by one,” Bakayoko said, referring to the individuals who remain at large. “I assure you that in the days to come you're going to see events speed up.”
The interior minister said that state intelligence services had also uncovered links between the alleged coup plotters and a group of Liberian mercenaries and pro-Gbagbo militias blamed for a series of recent attacks in western Ivory Coast.
Seven United Nations peacekeepers were among 18 people killed on Friday in an ambush that Ivorian authorities blamed on fighters it said had crossed over from neighbouring Liberia. Another four people were killed in a raid on Monday night. - Reuters