Inside Ivory Coast's Palace, 'An Armory, A Powder Keg' Piles of weapons have been found on the grounds of Ivory Coast's abandoned presidential palace. The former rebel commander says the cache suggests Laurent Gbagbo was preparing for war against his own people to stay in office.
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Inside Ivory Coast's Palace, 'An Armory, A Powder Keg'

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Inside Ivory Coast's Palace, 'An Armory, A Powder Keg'

Inside Ivory Coast's Palace, 'An Armory, A Powder Keg'

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Laurent Gbagbo, the defiant former president of Ivory Coast, holed up in the presidential residence during the final battle in Abidjan. Unable to withstand the bombardment of the compound by U.N. and French attack helicopters, Gbagbo ultimately surrendered. But the more dramatic evidence of Gbagbo's last stand is across town in the official presidential palace where he worked, the symbol of authority in Ivory Coast.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton toured the palace in the company of the commanding officer guarding the premises, and she found a veritable armory.

(Soundbite of army performing drill)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Former Ivorian rebel commander, Cherif Ousmane, is well respected among his men.

Commander CHERIF OUSMANE (Ivory Coast): (foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Today, he's telling some of the soldiers who come from the north of Ivory Coast and have never before set foot in the commercial capital Abidjan that the building in front of them is what they've been fighting for, the Palais Presidentiel, the presidential office.

Mr. OUSMANE: (foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: The manicured gardens are still neat but the decorated fountains and bronze statues belie what we find as we look around the grounds. The lawns of the presidential palace are littered with abandoned army uniforms, body armor, helmets, cartridges and flip-flops, as if soldiers left in a big rush.

Commander Cherif Ousmane accuses ousted President Laurent Gbagbo of preparing for war.

Mr. OUSMANE: (Through Translator) You'll find all sorts of weapons here, heavy weapons - rockets; mortars; the M-21 missiles, eight-feet-long; crates and crates of grenades and ammunitions, mines; assault rifles galore. The presidential palace was an armory, a powder keg, and all this to be used by Gbagbo against his own people, the Ivorian people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ousmane's soldiers back President-Elect Alassane Ouattara. The troops reached Abidjan early this month for their final assault on the city. Gbagbo's capture Monday ended the nearly five-months-long deadly battle for power.

(Soundbite of crunchy footsteps)

QUIST-ARCTON: There's the crunch of glass underfoot, on the paving stones and inside the presidential palace. Giant glass doors and windows are missing, likely hit by weapons fire.

(Soundbite of machinery humming)

QUIST-ARCTON: So, now we've come down into the basement and all we see is stacks, stacked up - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight high. These are what they call Stalin organs - cases upon cases of what used to be called Stalin organs. These are heavy weapons. This is what the United Nations was talking about, saying that Laurent Gbagbo and his forces were using heavy weapons against civilians.

Unidentified Man (Soldier): (foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Standing by a stockpile, this soldier says he's still in shock. He says never would he have believed a leader would be prepared to go to war -as he put it - against his own people.

In Abidjan today, the Red Cross continued collecting corpses, some charred, some lying on the side of the road. The international criminal court in The Hague as well as the U.N. Human Rights Commission warned they're investigating atrocities and rights abuses allegedly committed by both Gbagbo's and Ouattara's security forces in Ivory Coast.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abidjan.

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