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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 18:58 GMT
Saudi envoy's mystery death
French family leave I. Coast January 2003
Thousands of foreigners have left Ivory Coast in the past six months
The authorities in Saudi Arabia say there is no indication that the country's ambassador to Ivory Coast was murdered.

The ambassador, Muhammad Bin Ahmad Rasheed, was found dead on Friday morning in the stairwell of his apartment building in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan.

The diplomat was found naked, with a head wound, lying in a pool of blood, two floors below his 17th floor flat.

An Ivorian Government statement said that it "vigorously condemned this barbaric act" and expressed its "condolences to Saudi authorities and to the family" of the deceased.

But the Saudi Press Agency then quoted the Foreign Ministry, suggesting there may not have been a cold-blooded murder.

"According to initial information by authorities in Abidjan ... no sign of violence could be found on the victim's body, which makes one think Mohammed bin Ahmed al-Rasheed died of natural causes," said a foreign ministry spokesman, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The tower block is in one of the most secure areas of Abidjan, Plateau, next door to the American embassy, with private security guards manning every entrance.

None of them appears to have seen anything suspicious.


One of the envoy's neighbours told the BBC 's reporter in Abidjan, Kate Davenport, that the apartment was spotless, while the corridor and stairwell were stained in blood.

One witness said he had three injury marks on his head, as if he had been hit with a heavy object. Earlier reports suggested his throat had been slit.

But dozens of police were quick to cordon off the area, and blocked journalists from seeing more.

No neighbours heard any sounds last night, although most of the flats on his floor are inhabited.

The building also suffered a rare power failure around the same time, between 2000-2100, and residents say that the sound of the generators kicking in was so loud that they could not even hear their own television sets, let alone noises from outside.

The BBC's reporter says that Mr Rasheed had been due to dine with the Algerian ambassador last night, but cancelled at the last minute.

Political concern

The evening curfew was recently put back from 10pm to midnight, until 0600.

In a mark of the seriousness with which the death was being taken by the authorities, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, Foreign Minister Mamadou Bamba and Security Minister Fofana Zemogo all visited the scene this morning.

A few hours later the government pledged on state television that it would find the culprits.

It also lamented that every time Ivory Coast tried to find a way out of crisis, something happened to blemish its image.

Mr Rasheed only arrived in Ivory Coast last December, three months after the armed rebellion which has split the country in two.

The six-month crisis has led to increasing security concerns, provoking many foreign embassies, the African Development Bank and the United Nations to evacuate staff.

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