15-year jail term for former police chief

The former chief of police of Djibouti, Gen Yacin Yabeh Galab, has been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges relating to an attempted coup in 2000, a local journalist told IRIN.

Yacin was formally charged in December 2000 with conspiracy and breach of state security, after the foiled police-led coup attempt which shook Djibouti at the time. Eleven policemen, including eight senior officers, who were being tried with the general on the same charges, received prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years, while one policeman was acquitted, the journalist, Abdi Adan, said.

The other charges against Yacin Yabeh and his co-defendants included urging Djibouti citizens to take up arms illegally, carrying and using weapons of war, and damaging public property, said Adan, who attended the court proceedings on Monday.

According to Adan, after the verdict was announced, Yacin "was calm and did not seem surprised". Yacin, a longtime friend of Djibouti President Ismael Omar Gelleh, had been police chief from independence in 1977 until his dismissal in December 2000, just prior to the coup attempt.

Yacin had been "very upset" by his dismissal, but might not have organised the rebellion, one Djibouti source told IRIN at the time. He was known to be a tough man with a hardcore following of intensely loyal officers. Adan said Yacin's defence had argued that the general had been in a state of shock brought about by his dismissal and "was not in a frame of mind to organise such a rebellion at the time".

Adan told IRIN that Yacin, who had been out on bail for the past 18 months, began his sentence "immediately upon the court's announcement".

The foiled coup attempt and its suppression claimed the lives of an unspecified number of people. Official sources said at the time that two people were killed during a 30-minute shoot-out between loyalist forces and the mutinous policemen for control of the state radio and television premises.

There has been no reaction from the public to the announcement of the general's jail term, Adan said. "The vast majority of Djiboutians are not even aware that he has been sentenced," he noted.