Friday 20 April 2018

Ivory Coast rebel troops end mutiny as deal inked

Ivory Coast rebel troops end mutiny as deal inked
(AFP 05/17/17)

Rebel soldiers in Ivory Coast on Tuesday agreed to end a four-day mutiny which drew in troops from across the country after reaching agreement with the government over a wages dispute.

"Calm has returned," said Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi. "The situation is returning to normal in all the military regions."

News of the deal was confirmed by a spokesman for the disgruntled troops, who said their financial demands had been met, ending a dispute which began in January.

"We have found a basis for agreement. We are returning to barracks," Sergeant Cisse Fousseni told AFP after a round of unrest that began early Friday.

The defence minister said banks had reopened and that civil servants could return to work and businesses resume normal activity.

The mutiny, which sowed disruption across the world's top cocoa-producing nation, saw soldiers shooting angrily into the air and heavy gunfire in Ivory Coast's two biggest cities, Abidjan and Bouake, in which one person died.

A second person died Tuesday of injuries from gunfire in the northern city of Korhogo.

There was heavy gunfire Monday at the country's largest military barracks in Abidjan, the economic capital, as well as in Gallieni camp in the city centre where banks, offices and department stores were closed.

Troops also seized control of Bouake, the country's second city, where sustained gunfire rang out. Border posts were closed, halting traffic to neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

But the tensions eased considerably after news of the deal broke.

"We're happy, we haven't slept for five days," said rebel spokesman Serjeant Sidick. "Even we don't want any more mutinies. It stops here. But we didn't have any other way to make ourselves heard."

- 'Everything that was promised' -

On the streets of Bouake, troops left the southern entrance of the city which they had taken over, handing back control of the spiked roadblock to the police.

And life started to resume its normal pace, with most shops open and the main streets, which had been deserted over the past four days, filling up with shoppers.

The mutiny was the latest in a series of armed protests which began in January in the West African country, with troops angered by a wage dispute with President Alassane Ouattara's government.

That uprising ended when the government agreed to pay the soldiers bonuses of 12 million CFA francs (18,000 euros) each.

At the time, they were given a partial payment of 5.0 million francs with the remainder due to be paid this month. But the last payment never materialised, prompting the latest round of unrest.

According to sources among the rebel soldiers, the government has now agreed to give them an immediate payment of 5.0 million CFA francs with the remaining 2.0 million to be paid next month.

With the agreement, the soldiers have now secured "everything which had been promised in January," one source told AFP.

"We got what we wanted. Full stop," said another.

- 'Can't live like this' -

News that the mutiny was over was welcomed on the streets of Bouake although some appeared unconvinced it would be the end of the story.

"This is a real joy for the people," a farmer called Billy Kouassi told AFP.

"But it's becoming a habit. We can't live with this all the time."

"The mutineers are right. They should be paid. A mistake was made and they had to sit down behind closed doors... But giving them 7.0 million CFA francs? In plain view of people who are suffering?" he asked.

Also relieved was student Cyril Guede, but he too had his reservations.

"They say its all over and then they come back," he told AFP of the rebel soldiers.

"They're happy, they're at peace, they can eat but the people are suffering a great deal," he said, predicting it would only encourage further strikes by other soldiers, civil servants and police.

Ouattara took office in 2011 after months of deadly election violence in which more than 8,000 rebels supported him against troops backing ex-head-of-state Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede defeat at the ballot box.

Many of the rebels subsequently joined the regular army, which currently numbers some 22,000 troops.

Last year, the government unveiled a plan to modernise the military, part of which would involve the departure of several thousand men, mainly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.

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