Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Incident in Ivory Coast

"Incident" is a nice, innocuous word, isn't it? Yes, I watched the footage of the 9-November incident: both tapes. My French isn't good enough to pick out much from the strong CdI accents, but I think I got the general idea of what was going on.

A large crowd (easily over a thousand strong) formed behind a warning cord. They chanted, sang, shouted, and sometimes danced. I couldn't tell if they were making threats, but the demeanor of those protesters the cameraman hung around with was peaceful. That doesn't mean they all were, of course--it was a large crowd. The part the cameraman was around seemed organized.

The hotel in the background had French personnel carriers and tanks in front of it at the far side of the road, barbed wire in front of the tanks, then the road itself, then a low brick fence, then an open area, then the warning tape, and the crowd was in the park behind the warning tape. Except for a few.

The camera was near the front when the first shots came. The cameraman ran like mad, but there weren't more than a few shots, and he stopped to film a banner. He filmed angry protesters, one with a bandaged forehead, and the protest went on. A few fellows crossed the line and mooned the French.

He went closer to the fence. Some protesters had crossed the cord, stood on the fence, and were even in the road. More shots rang out. Some people hit the dirt and tried to crawl away (the brick fence provided a little shelter), others strolled away. As the crowd thinned out you could see numerous people on the ground, but I saw no blood and most of the people on the ground seemed unhurt, just scared. Some people seemed to have minor scrapes, smashed elbows, etc. Then the cameraman reached the cars in back where the wounded were being brought. Here he found a more severe injury: a bullet wound in the leg. I'd guess most of the bullets went way over people's heads.

He filmed protesters dancing inside the park pavilion, waving a Bible and chanting. A banner said Jesus is always here.

Now he went down the road to a medical station, and you see a young man getting his arm stitched back together.

Back to the crowd scene, with a much thinner crowd and a lot of litter on the ground. This time the fusillade was more extensive, and had a few deeper notes. The cameraman was not near the front, and he ran like mad. This time there was no strolling away. The crowd regrouped farther back in the park. Sporadic shooting continued. There were more injuries, with lots of people on the ground for treatment. (The cameraman spent a lot of time with the hysterical women: not usually injured, but their shirts were removed to help them stay cool). There were more bullet wounds (holes and grazing wounds), attempts at CPR and field medicine. A few of the bullet holes were in the back. The French, after some indeterminate time, drove off, redeployed, whatever: the camera angle wasn't clear. The clip goes on to scenes of a fellow whose head was blown apart, the French driving away, and then a UN jeep burning.

Did the French shoot at unarmed civilians? As far as I could tell, yes indeed. Was there any provocation; anybody in the crowd shooting at them? I can't say for sure. The cameraman wasn't around anybody carrying anything more dangerous than a sign, and when the big fusillade came he wasn't anywhere near the front. The crowd got angrier and angrier, and it wouldn't surprise me if some men had tried to rush the French line. But I don't see my way from repelling that sort of thing to blazing away at the rest of the crowd. And in any case, the clips showed no protesters with weapons. If the clips were unedited (something I cannot swear to), then the French were clearly at fault.

As others have said elsewhere, soldiers make lousy policemen.

No comments: