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Renegade warlord killed in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Renegade warlord Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly’ was badly beaten and then shot in the heart by former allies turned enemy, his top aide said late Thursday to deny a claim that the two-time coup plotter had committed suicide.

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara, whom Coulibaly had said he considered “a father,” earlier Thursday expressed his regrets at the death of his wife’s one-time bodyguard, who began the pro-democracy battle for Abidjan that put Ouattara in power. Coulibaly died Wednesday.

Top aide Felix Anoble said the warlord was killed in an attack by fighters of his longtime rival Guilliaume Soro, a former rebel who is now the country’s prime minister and defense minister.

Anoble was responding to comments made by one of Soro’s commanders, who said Coulibaly appeared to have killed himself rather than surrender when Soro’s troops seized Coulibaly’s stronghold in Abidjan’s poor neighborhood of Abobo on Wednesday night. The senior commander spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

“Chief Sergeant Ibrahim Coulibaly has been killed this evening during fighting with the FRCI” Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, state television said.

But the senior commander who directed the fighting against Coulibaly said it appeared to be a suicide.

“Our men surrounded his residence but he refused to surrender. When our fighters got access, they found his body, lifeless but with no bullet wound.”

Anoble denied that.

“Did you not see the photograph? That’s him. His face is all swollen because they beat him badly before delivering the final shot.”

A photograph posted at the news website www.abidjan.net showed the body of a man, arms stretched above him, with an apparent bullet wound to the chest and a bloodied face that looked like Coulibaly.

Anoble said he was killed after his troops were attacked while waiting for U.N. peacekeepers to arrive and disarm them.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, speaking from New York, said the United Nations had negotiated a peace meeting and sent a patrol to escort Coulibaly. But when it arrived “Mr. Coulibaly changed his mind and refused to come,” Haq said.

Haq said Coulibaly was attacked after the peacekeepers left.

Newly installed President Ouattara gave no details about Coulibaly’s death Thursday saying only, “things happened as reported in the media.”

Ouattara also announced he would be inaugurated May 21 in the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro. Ouattara won a November presidential poll but was unable to take command because strongman Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power, plunging the West African nation into four months of chaos.

Ouattara on Friday had ordered Coulibaly and his forces to disarm or expect to have weapons seized by force. Coulibaly said that disarming would take time to organize. He pledged his allegiance to the new president in an interview with The Associated Press, but has not been received by him.

“Our positions were attacked this morning by Republican Forces (FRCI) while our soldiers had met to wait for disarmament overseen by the U.N.,” Anoble said.

Brig. Gen. Michel Gueu, the military adviser to Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, said Tuesday he met with a Coulibaly delegation to advise they to disarm.

“We’re here to bring a verbal message from the president and the prime minister who ask that IB deposes his arms,” he said, adding that it was a prerequisite to meeting with the two leaders.

On Monday, Coulibaly’s aides accused Soro’s camp of attacking his forces that had been defending Abobo since February. The two men have a years-old feud.

Soro’s men did not reach Abidjan until April.

The rivalry between Soro and Coulibaly was the biggest challenge to confront Ouattara’s fledgling government since Gbagbo, the former strongman, was arrested April 11.

Coulibaly had led a successful 1999 coup that installed Gen. Robert Guei, who was assassinated after elections in 2000. In 2002 Coulibaly helped lead a failed coup against Gbagbo and made no secret of his own presidential aspirations. Later that year, Coulibaly began the rebellion that divided Ivory Coast between a rebel-held north and government-run south.

In 2004, Soro and Coulibaly waged bloody battles for leadership in the rebels’ stronghold in the central city of Bouake. Soro won and Coulibaly was forced into exile.

Ouattara has little control over the former rebel forces that brought him to power and who will form the new Ivorian army by integrating with Gbagbo’s old forces. The former rebels grouped loosely under Soro, who is also the prime minister, are commanded by five different warlords.

Coulibaly re-emerged in Abidjan in January at the head of the “Invisible Commandos” to start the battle against Gbagbo’s forces after soldiers fired mortar shells and rockets into Abobo, a neighborhood that voted en masse for Ouattara.

The Nov. 28 elections were supposed to reunite the country, but Gbagbo’s stubborn refusal to accept his defeat precipitated the most recent violence in a country in conflict for a decade. It is not known how many thousands have been killed and wounded.

Ouattara’s government has appealed for residents to return to their normal lives.

Late Tuesday, Ouattara’s government announced preliminary investigations into Gbagbo and his family.

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