Former army chief Philippe Mangou testified Monday for the first time against ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who is on trial for crimes against humanity, accused of inciting a wave of post-electoral violence.
Appearing for the prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mangou sought to clarify his ties with the former head of state and distance himself from the bloodshed which erupted when Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the November 2010 presidential elections.
Gbagbo, 72, and his former militia leader Charles Ble Goude, 45, have pleaded not guilty to four charges arising out of the unrest which wracked the Ivory Coast for five months from December 2010 until early 2011, after Gbagbo refused to accept his internationally-recognised defeat by bitter rival Alassane Ouattara.
About 3,000 people died when rival supporters clashed on the streets of Abidjan, what was then one of west Africa's most cosmopolitan cities.
"I do not have any particular relationship with the president," Mangou insisted, adding their relations were that of a president and "the chief of staff, that is the boss and his collaborator."
After a months-long standoff, Gbagbo was arrested by Ouattara's troops aided by UN forces and troops from former colonial master France, then turned over to the world's only permanent war crimes court in The Hague in 2011.
Mangou switched allegiances three times between Gbagbo and Ouattara during the crisis, and currently serves now President Ouattara as ambassador to Gabon.
During the turmoil, Gbagbo hunkered down in the presidential palace refusing to leave, while Ouattara and his supporters were barricaded into their headquarters in the Golf hotel in Abidjan.
Mangou denied however that it was a deliberate blockade to deprive Ouattara of food and necessities, saying no such orders had been given.
Gbagbo "gave instructions" that there was to be a "readjustment at the security system so that our brothers should not leave the Golf to carry out any crimes or anything else within the centre," Mangou told the court.
"To our mind, it never was a blockade. It never was a blockade," he insisted, adding it was more of "a checkpoint" to stop troops loyal to Ouattara from leaving the hotel.
Mangou also recalled that with violence spreading on the streets, he had sought to designate part of the city "a war zone" so civilians could leave unharmed and seek safety. But Gbagbo had refused, saying the country had put war behind it.
Gbagbo's trial opened in January 2016 and is set to last three or four years. Mangou's questioning by the prosecution will continue to Thursday.
© Agence France-Presse