/ 12 October 2004

Villagers arrested after Gabon police-station attack

Thirty Gabonese villagers have been arrested following an attack last month on a police station in the south of the country, in which two police officers were killed, a Defence Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.

”Around 30 people have been detained. Twenty of them are being held at the police station in Mouila and another 10 have been taken to the central prison in Mouila,” a town 300km south-east of the capital, said spokesperson Gervais Oniane.

Each suspect’s involvement in the attack on the police station has not yet been defined, he said.

On September 9, a group of villagers stormed the police precinct in Lebamba, about 400km south-east of Libreville, ”kidnapped the brigade commander and one of his colleagues, whom they took to their village” and allegedly beat them to death, Oniane said in a statement shortly after the attack.

The Defence Ministry said the protesters attacked the police station after learning that one of their number had died after being injured a few days earlier during a security-forces crackdown on a local protest.

”Actions such as that carried out by these people from the south of the country are barbaric and could compromise peace and stability in the country,” Defence Minister Ali Bongo Ondimba said in a speech to military leaders that was broadcast nationwide on Monday.

The Defence Ministry has insisted the slain villager was hit by a bullet fired from one of the demonstrators’ guns. It said the protesters had opened fire with hunting rifles on gendarmes who had been deployed to break up their protest.

Villagers had erected barricades on September 2 to demand the resumption of the electricity supply to several hamlets in Nyanga province, and to demand that the government supply school furniture.

Gendarmes moved in to dismantle the barricades, and 12 gendarmes and two civilians were wounded in unclear circumstances during that operation, a Defence Ministry statement has said.

A spokesperson for the villagers, Cyrille Massala, has denied the Defence Ministry’s version of the incident, saying: ”At no time did the villagers exhibit 12-calibre rifles or make use of any such rifle.” — Sapa-AFP