Mutinous Cote d’Ivoire soldiers withdraw from streets after deal

A delegation of mutinous soldiers reacts after taking part in negotiations with Cote d’Ivoire’s defence minister (out of picture) in Bouake. — AFP

A delegation of mutinous soldiers reacts after taking part in negotiations with Cote d’Ivoire’s defence minister (out of picture) in Bouake. — AFP

BouakE – Cote d’Ivoire’s mutinous soldiers withdrew from the streets of the second city Bouake yesterday after the president announced a deal on their demands for bonuses, pay rises, housing and faster promotion.

“There has been no firing since Saturday night,” a correspondent in Bouake said. “Traffic has resumed this morning and the shops have reopened.”

The world’s top cocoa producer was rocked by two days of unrest after soldiers seized control of Bouake’s streets early on Friday, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents, in a mutiny that spread to other cities including the economic capital Abidjan.

In Abidjan — a bustling seaport that is home to the presidency and parliament — national television reported that shots had been fired at the eastern Akouedo barracks on Saturday morning.

Yesterday, Abidjan’s central Plateau area where several government offices and leading businesses are located, was calm.

“Life is back to normal,” a resident said.

The same was true for the northern city of Korhogo and Man in the west. A Man resident, who identified himself as Jean, said: “The soldiers have returned to their barracks.”

On Saturday evening President Alassane Ouattara announced an agreement had been reached. In a brief televised address he said it took into account “the demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers”.

“Having given my agreement, I ask all soldiers to go back to their barracks to allow decisions to be carried out calmly,” he added, without giving any details of the accord.

The soldiers had detained Defence Minister Alain Richard Donwahi on Saturday for two hours in a tense standoff over their demands, firing Kalashnikovs and heavy arms around the home of a senior local official where Donwahi was meeting with the soldiers’ representatives.

Shortly after Donwahi’s release, troops lifted the barricades that had blocked entry to Bouake and the automatic rifle fire that had rattled all through the previous night and into Saturday fell silent.

Bouake was the capital of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then president Laurent Gbagbo.

Twelve years later, a similar dispute over pay by rebels-turned-soldiers erupted in Bouake which spread to Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill.

The government had then agreed to a deal that provided amnesty for the mutineers and a financial settlement.

A Bouake resident said yesterday he had had enough.

“We no longer want this situation in Bouake,” said Adama Coulibaly, a teacher. “We are tired of these actions of the soldiers. I can’t wait for President Ouattara to find a definitive solution to their problems.”

Cote d’Ivoire was seen as a haven of peace and stability in troubled west Africa until the 2002 rebellion which sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

Rebel forces then had backed Ouattara, the current president who took office in April 2011 after a bloody post-electoral showdown with Gbagbo that left 3 000 people dead.

Gbagbo was arrested and turned over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where his trial began in January last year for crimes against humanity.

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