Ivory Coast soldiers revolt over pay dispute

Gunfire erupted on Friday in several locations in Ivory Coast, including the military headquarters in the commercial capital Abidjan, as anger spread following a decision by some leaders of a group of mutineers to drop demands for bonuses.

The protests by soldiers, most of them ex-rebel fighters who helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, began in the second largest city, Bouake, overnight before spreading to Abidjan and the northern town of Odienne.

The unrest came a day after a spokesman for thousands of soldiers who participated in a January mutiny, which paralyzed parts of the world’s top cocoa grower, said the group would forego demands for more money.

“That’s not what they were meant to say,” said one of the mutiny leaders in Bouake, who asked not to be named, explaining the reaction of the soldiers to the announcement.

“Soldiers are at the entrances to the city. We won’t close it off for the moment … Other soldiers are also deployed inside the city.”

He said if they received no response from the authorities, they would seal off access to Bouake in the evening.

“We’re still hearing gunfire. They are firing in the air. To be safe we are starting to send the children home from school,” said Sarah Toure, a teacher in Bouake.

Mirroring the rapid spread of the January mutinies, gunfire also was heard at Ivory Coast’s military headquarters as well its largest military base in Abidjan, military and diplomatic sources said. Soldiers also blocked access to the northern city of Odienne, a resident said.

Ivory Coast has emerged from a 2002-2011 conflict as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But deep divisions persist, particularly in a military assembled from ex-rebel and loyalist fighters, raising the specter of lingering instability.

That pledge to drop further demands for bonus payments would ease pressure on government finances, which have been squeezed by a sharp decline in world cocoa prices and earlier payments to the mutinous soldiers.

 

Zainab Sa’id