Ivory Coast court hands life term to former warlord over 2011 massacre
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Abidjan, Ivory Coast - A court in Abidjan on Thursday handed a life sentence to former warlord Amade Oueremi over March 2011 massacres in western Ivory Coast in which hundreds were killed.
Oueremi had faced 24 charges of mass murder, rape and inhumane and degrading treatment over the violence in Duekoue, which occurred as Ivory Coast was in the grip of a post-election civil war.
In estimates cited in the trial, the Red Cross said 817 people were killed on one day alone, while the United Nations put the toll at 300 dead.
The case brought forward searing testimony from survivors of the violence on March 27-28, 2011.
Speaking through an interpreter, Odette Klahon, a woman in her sixties missing a hand, recalled how armed men "broke down doors looking for healthy men" in the Carrefour district.
"It was during that unrest that my husband was arrested and executed before my eyes," she said.
Yvette Diao said militiamen executed three of her brothers and one sister, slicing the ears and genitals off one of the men while he was still alive.
As well as his prison sentence, Oueremi was ordered to pay more than one billion CFA francs (1.5 million euros, $1.8 million) to 34 civil plaintiffs.
His lawyer Roseline Aka Serikpa said that Oueremi "bears only part of the responsibility, it's unjust to place responsibility for what happened at Duekoue on his shoulders alone".
Duekoue, a hub for Ivory Coast's all-important cocoa industry, became one of the worst areas for bloodshed in a conflict sparked when then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to admit election defeat to rival Alassane Ouattara.
The months-long war ended in April 2011, at a cost of some 3,000 lives, when Gbagbo was seized.
He was later hauled off to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face war-crimes charges, of which he was finally acquitted last month -- a move that supporters hope will lead to his imminent homecoming.
Pro-Ouattara forces seized Duekoue in March 2011 before militiamen allegedly under Oueremi's command carried out the massacres.
The violence played out against a background of ethnic tensions between the local pro-Gbagbo Guere community, pro-Ouattara Dioulas from northern Ivory Coast, and immigrants from neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Oueremi, 57, whose nickname was "The Lord", did not deny that massacres had taken place but dismissed accusations that he bore sole responsibility.
"I can't be the one who carries the can for the others. I was part of the FRCI," he told the court, referring to the forces that took the city.
"We were fighting Liberians and pro-Gbagbo militias who were sowing terror in the area... They killed us and we also killed them."