Search for Gabon’s missing goes on, two weeks after poll violence

September 19, 2016 10:03 am
A man traditionally dressed with banana leaves joins mourners paying their respects at an improvised altar for those who perished during the post electoral violence in Libreville on September 6, 2016/AFP-File

, LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Sep 19 – More than two weeks after the start of violence prompted by a contested presidential election in Gabon, the search for missing loved ones continues, sometimes with grisly results.

Olivier’s eyes are haggard after his days of scouring Libreville ended in the cold room of a morgue.

There, in a drawer, together because of a shortage of space with two unidentified bodies, he found his younger brother’s corpse.

On photos Olivier showed AFP, Prosper Mesmin N’gang’s face, arm and Juventus football shirt were smeared with blood. He was married with five children.

Staff at the Casepga morgue did not allow Olivier to examine his brother’s body for bullet wounds.

The official line is that he was collected by an ambulance at around 2 am in PK5, an outlying district of the capital, on the night of August 31.

It was at the height of the riots and looting that followed the announcement that Ali Bongo had won the slimmest of victories in a presidential election held four days earlier.

“His wife stayed in their village and couldn’t get hold of him. Nobody knew what had happened,” explained Olivier, who still knows next to nothing about how his brother died, even if he is convinced the death is linked to political events.

Several people have told Olivier they came across his brother at the headquarters of losing opposition candidate Jean Ping just before security forces mounted a deadly assault on the premises that night.

Solange Ntsame Obiang, 56, burst into tears when discussing her own search for a missing loved one, in her case her nephew.

She last saw him at Ping’s headquarters, also on the night of August 31.

A Ping supporter herself, Obiang says she was detained with 65 other women for six days after the raid.

A distressed Gabonese woman reacts at the Libreville Magistrate Court on September 6, 2016, while she waits to hear about the release of young men arrested during a wave of unrest that followed the results of the election/AFP-File

“One of them was pregnant. She lost her baby,” recalled Obiang.

When she was finally freed, she learnt of her nephew’s death.

“I don’t eat anymore. I don’t sleep,” she said.

Different tolls

The government insists only three people died in the post-election unrest, while the opposition, without producing evidence, puts the number at at least 50.

At Ping’s headquarters, a team has set up a crisis committee and a hotline so that families can share information about their dead and missing.

Organisers of the hotline said they had received 21 reports of death and 19 of missing people, while the committee maintains careful records of photos and videos of bloodied bodies.

“It’s not exhaustive. Many relatives don’t dare come to us because they are afraid of reprisals,” said one committee member who asked not to be named.

Samuel Moulili is looking for his 21-year-old brother, who also went missing on the night Ping’s HQ was stormed.

“I’ve been to the hospitals, the police stations and funeral parlours, but nobody knows anything,” he told AFP.

“I have spent whole days in front of the courthouse to see if he would get out of a truck” like hundreds of detainees charged after the riots.

“Still nothing,” he said.

At a recent news conference, Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet-Boubeya suggested journalists themselves go and check funeral parlours.

A man points out bullet holes at Gabon’s opposition leader Jean Ping’s headquarters on September 3, 2016 in Libreville/AFP-File 

In the city centre, one of them, Gabosep, said it had received five people killed by gunshots between September 1 and September 7.

Another, SAFF, said it had received several bodies during the same period, all of them “natural deaths”, according to a manager.

Staff at a third, Casepga, the one where Olivier found his brother, denied journalists access to the premises.


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