ABIDJAN, Apr 28 – Ivory Coast militia leader Ibrahim Coulibaly has been killed by forces of new President Alassane Ouattara during a raid to dislodge his armed group from an Abidjan district, an official said.
The Republican Forces (FRCI) gunned down Coulibaly Wednesday after he opened fire from his hideout in a house, defence ministry spokesman Leon Alla Kouakou said.
Coulibaly "took a whole family hostage. The FRCI fired two warning shots and he responded with heavy fire. The FRCI had no other choice but to respond and the response was fatal for him," Kouakou told AFP.
The official said two government troops and six militiamen were killed in the late Wednesday shootout.
Government forces earlier in the day launched an offensive against the militia known as "invisible commando", but who had deserted their stronghold in Abidjan\’s northern Abobo district.
"We will leave a unit on the ground," army spokesman Eddy Image told AFP. "The residents welcomed our forces like liberators. We found several weapons, and around 30 people were arrested."
Earlier, Coulibaly said his forces were resisting the raid and pledged to launch a counter-offensive "at the right time," adding that he was at a safe place from where he was commanding operations.
The attack came days after President Ouattara urged armed groups to lay down weapons or be disarmed by force, as his government, which took power after strongman Laurent Gbagbo\’s April 11 arrest, asserts his authority in the crisis-hit country.
Coulibaly\’s spokesman told AFP that they had heeded the president\’s call to disarm and voiced surprise at the attack.
"We asked our men to disarm as demanded by the head of state. They began laying down their weapons and to my surprise we are being attacked," said Felix Anoble.
Abobo was one of the two Abidjan neighbourhoods where armed groups were still operating. Diehard pro-Gbagbo fighters are holed up in the city\’s northwestern Yopougon district, where the government forces tried unsuccesfully last week to eject them.
During Wednesday\’s operation in Abobo, the government troops searched houses and called on fighters to disarm.
"Tell your children, your brothers that IB is finished. Life must return to normal," army official Cherif Ousmane told Abobo residents, using Coulibaly\’s popular reference.
Coulibaly had said he wanted recognition by the new government for his forces\’ role in driving out pro-Gbagbo fighters from Abobo earlier this year and sought to meet Ouattara, but was told his forces must first disarm.
On Monday, Anoble blamed Ouattara\’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro for blocking their bid to meet with the president.
Coulibaly had been at odds with the now prime minister since Soro ousted him from the leadership of their rebel group, which attempted to overthrow Gbagbo in 2002.
The new administration in Ivory Coast is struggling to restore stability in the west African country emerging from a bitter and at times violent post-election crisis that ended with Gbagbo\’s capture.
Gbagbo had refused to relinquish power to Ouattara, who was regarded by the international community as the winner of the November 28 elections.
The deposed president and his wife Simone have been put under house arrest in separate towns in the north of the country.
On Tuesday, the government said it had launched a preliminary probe on "crimes and offences" allegedly committed by Gbagbo and his associates.
Life in much of Abidjan, the scene of some of the fiercest clashes pitting Ouattara forces against pro-Gbagbo fighters earlier this month, is slowly returning to normal.
Banks are expected to resume service Thursday and end a two-month pay freeze for civil servants who resumed work last week.