Clashes in Togo as soldiers back banned party



Mark Huband in Abidjan and agencies in Lomé

The Guardian, 28 November 1991

Violent clashes in the Togolese capital, Lomé, yesterday left at least three people dead and 100 injured after soldiers drove tanks on to the city streets and demanded the reinstatement of the former ruling party which was banned by the new reformist government on Tuesday.

More than 100 soldiers threatened to avenge the deaths of any troops killed during the clashes. “If one soldier is killed in a district [of the city] that district will be bombarded,” the troops said in a broadcast after they occupied the radio and television stations.

Many of the injured were suffering from bullet wounds after fighting broke out between members of President Gnassingbe Eyadema’s banned Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) and supporters of the interim government appointed in August after a national conference on political reform which stripped Gen Eyadema of most of his powers.

In their broadcast the soldiers said: “We are not members of the RPT, but we believe all parties should be recognised,” and demanded that Gen Eyadema’s party be reinstated.

State radio said thousands of RPT supporters armed with clubs, bows, and arrows staged a protest in Gen Eyadema’s northern home region of Kozah and seized a radio station.

Threats of military action against the transitional government led by the prime minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, have become frequent since the end of the national conference. The conference heard accounts of torture and ill-treatment of government opponents, destroying the credibility of the Eyadema regime, which came to power in a 1967 military coup, and resulting in the RPT being banned.

On October 1, troops loyal to Gen Eyadema briefly occupied the radio and television building before returning to barracks on the president’s orders.

Several people were killed and scores hurt on October 8, after troops attempted to kidnap Mr Koffigoh, who was only saved by his supporters.

Eleven people died during these clashes which the opposition quickly blamed on three senior army officers, including Colonel Toyi Gnassingbe, a close relative of Gen Eyadema.

Two weeks ago, three soldiers were killed when their military truck crashed 60 miles outside Lomé. The truck was found to have been full of arms and ammunition unaccounted for by senior officers. One of the soldiers was a half-brother of Gen Eyadema, Commander Assih.

Another, Captain Bitenwe, had been arrested for the attempted kidnap of the prime minister but had been spirited out of prison and was, along with the two others, thought to be planning the overthrow of the government.

Gen Eyadema has been repeatedly implicated in these military shows of force.


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved