Wednesday 22 November 2017

Two ex-rebel leaders jailed in I. Coast over pay protest

Two ex-rebel leaders jailed in I. Coast over pay protest
(AFP 07/12/17)

Two former rebel leaders in Ivory Coast were jailed Tuesday after the ex-fighters obstructed a road into the central city of Bouake over a pay dispute, a legal source said.

The head of the demobilised forces, Amadou Ouattara, and his main spokesman, Megbe Diomande, were sent to the town's civilian prison after being charged with "disturbing the peace and unauthorised demonstration", the source said, asking not to be named.

Both men were detained on Sunday evening, after police dispersed ex-rebels who blocked traffic in their onetime stronghold to claim a bonus of 18 million CFA francs (27,440 euros/$31,300) apiece.

The Ivorian rebels first arose in 2002 in a foiled bid to oust then president Laurent Gbagbo, which effectively split the west African cocoa-producing nation in two for eight years.

Many rebels have been incorporated into military ranks since Gbagbo was ousted by force in 2011 after losing an election to Alassane Ouattara the previous year, but thousands of others were simply demobilised.

The deputy leader of the Bouake insurgents, Aboudou Diakite, told AFP by telephone that he was "currently in hiding" but wanted the jailed pair released.

"We're asking for forgiveness, so that they can be freed," he said.

Several of the demobilised men said that neither Amadou Ouattara nor Diomande took part in Sunday's protests, adding that Ouattara had indeed expressed disapproval of the action.

Mutinies by ex-rebels in the army erupted last January and May to press demands for payment. The state eventually paid out 12 million CFA francs (18,200 euros) to these men.

But 6,000 other ex-rebels also demanded bonuses without success. Four of them were killed in May when security forces put an end to their uprising.

Ivory Coast has an army numbering around 22,000 soldiers, but falling cocoa prices have severely crimped the government's finances.

Last year, the authorities unveiled an ambitious plan to modernise the armed forces, part of which would entail the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.

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