Mutinous troops surrounded the military’s headquarters as well as the defense ministry in the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidjan, over an unresolved pay dispute that has been fueling unrest in the African nation since January.
Similar incidents were observed in Bouake, where rebellious troops reportedly sealed off the entire city. Korhogo and Odienne in the country’s north were also affected.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is looking increasingly unwilling to negotiate with mutinous troops
The soldiers, most of whom are ex-rebel fighters who helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, demand considerable pay raises, compensation for salary arrears and unpaid bonuses, saying that they are still waiting to receive some of the promised funds.
“Money or death!” one of the soldiers outside the Gallieni military camp in Abidjan was heard saying between firing rounds of ammunition in the air.
The National Security Council, comprised of President Ouattara, the defense and interior ministers and the security forces’ leadership, meanwhile held an emergency meeting, a defense ministry source said.
Rejection of apology
A spokesman for the protesting group of 8,400 soldiers, identified as Sergeant Fofana, however had just publicly apologized to the president on national television for the mutiny the day before, saying they renounced further financial demands.
“That soldier did not speak in our name,” one of the protesters told Germany’s DPA news agency. “He had surely been bribed to speak in favor of politicians and the government and not in favor of the military.”
“This is our answer to yesterday’s announcement,” one of the rebel soldiers meanwhile told the AFP news agency on the condition of anonymity. “We’re not like teachers who express themselves with pens, our profession is guns.”
Financial pressures on all sides
The government has reportedly paid the 8,400 troops behind the rebellion bonuses of 5 million CFA francs (7,500 euros/$8,200) each as part of a deal to end the prolonged mutiny. The soldiers were also due to receive a staggered payment of an additional 7 million CFA francs each as part of an agreement.
The crash in cocao prizes has tightened the belt on government spending
They said that the government has asked for a delay in these payments in order to ease financial pressure on the country’s Treasury, citing a collapse in revenues after a major collapse in the price of cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main export.
Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi told the Reuters news agency that “of this group of 8,400, some have understood the message. Others haven’t understood the message. We’re not negotiating.”
“Those who don’t accept this decision must simply leave the army.”
Last year, the government also unveiled plans to modernize the military, part of which would involve the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who would not be replaced.
Memory of civil war still fresh
Meanwhile around 100 elite Republican Guard troops were seen taking positions against the mutineers in Abidjan, surrounding the camp with vehicles and firing shots in the direction of the rebellious faction.
With civil war only having ended in Cote d’Ivoire in 2011, the West African nation remains on knife’s edge about displays of violence and public disobedience. Locals fear that a standoff between the mutinous soldiers and government troops could result in chaos and mass casualties.
ss/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)