Mutinous troops seize Togo PM



Mark Huband in Abidjan and agencies

The Guardian, 4 December 1991

Mutinous troops yesterday arrested Togo’s prime minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, after blasting his residence with cannons and machine guns.

They also killed up to 13 loyal troops and officials who had been under siege in the capital for the past five days.

Mr Koffigoh told the 60 presidential guardsmen who had remained loyal to him that they should lay down their weapons.

“The tanks are attacking. There are dead everywhere. Help us, please help us now,” a man inside the besieged government headquarters said in a telephone call.

A column of black smoke was seen rising from the residence and the sound of cannons and automatic gunfire could be heard. With 12 dead soldiers and one dead civilian as well as many wounded lying around him, Mr Koffigoh left the building and handed himself over to the mutinous troops.

Mr Koffigoh was reported in a radio broadcast to be unhurt. A statement issued in the Ivory Coast by the former president, Gnassingbe Eyadema, said that after being arrested, the prime minister was taken to the president’s private house.

Gen Eyadema was stripped of all but ceremonial powers at a national political conference in August. The mutinous troops are determined to see him restored to power.

Later, Togo national radio, which is controlled by the military, broadcast a list of interim government officials who, it said, should surrender themselves at army headquarters, including Monsignor Philippe Kpodzro, the Roman Catholic archbishop.

The soldiers also cautioned against any violence by the young pro-Koffigoh demonstrators who were one of the driving forces behind the efforts to end Gen Eyadema’s rule.

Thousands of Ghanaians and Togolese have fled across the Ghanaian border saying that soldiers had killed hundreds of civilians in Lomé. Ghanaian troops have been on full alert but have allowed the refugees to cross though the border as well as Lomé airport have been closed for the second time in two days.

To the east, the Benin government, which took the unprecedented step of condemning the coup last week, has set up a crisis committee, so seriously does it take the possible overspilling of events in Togo.

France, Togo’s former colonial power, condemned Mr Koffigoh’s arrest but said it was not too late for dialogue. The French defence minister, Pierre Joxe, yesterday flew to neighbouring Benin, where 270 French paratroopers are on standby should events turn against the 3,000 French nationals living in Togo.

The attack occurred the day after Mr Koffigoh issued a 10-point negotiating plan to try to end the crisis, which included a demand that the military withdraw from the radio and television stations as well as the capital.


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