Rebel soldiers block access to I Coast's second-largest city

2017-05-13 18:01
 (File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Bouak - Hundreds of renegade soldiers blocked access to Ivory Coast's second-largest city on Saturday after firing guns into the air throughout the night, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

Rebellious soldiers had already taken to the streets on Friday in Bouake as well as in the economic capital of Abidjan and another city, demanding hefty pay increases.

The city of Bouake was the epicentre of a mutiny in January by former rebel soldiers who had been integrated into the army, which triggered months of unrest.

Defiant soldiers also took to the streets in the central city of Daloa, a trading centre, after firing their guns in the air overnight, and nighttime shooting was also heard in Korhogo, the main city in the country's north.

The situation remained calm however in Abidjan on Saturday, a day after the rebelling soldiers had surrounded the military's headquarters in the city before being driven back by loyalist forces.

"We want our money," a soldier wearing a facemask said in Bouake on Saturday, refusing to give his name.

The soldiers forced the police who normally control the four main access points to Bouake to flee, before taking up positions and blocking all traffic into the city.

They were also taking up positions elsewhere in the city and continuing to fire sporadically into the air, and banks and stores remained closed on Saturday morning.

Late on Friday, General Sekou Toure, chief of staff of Ivory Coast's armed forces, warned of "severe disciplinary sanctions" for the soldiers.

But negotiations on Saturday between the rebels and military commanders in Bouake failed to end the blockade of the city, and rebels warned they would fight back if the army tried to intervene.

 'Willing to fight' 

"They can send whoever they want. We're ready," one of the masked soldiers told AFP.

Another soldier, who also wore a facemask and refused to give his name, said: "We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't willing to fight."

Yao Kobena, a teacher in the city, told AFP on Saturday that resolving the conflict could prove more complicated than in other parts of the country.

"Don't forget that this city was the capital of the rebellion," he said, referring to the 2002 uprising by troops supporting President Alassane Ouattara against Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept his electoral defeat.

The rebels controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast until 2011, and were later integrated into the army.

The January mutiny by the former rebel soldiers saw the government promise to pay them 12 million CFA francs (18 000 euros) each, with an initial payment of five million francs that month.

The remainder was to be paid this month, according to rebel sources.

After meeting those demands, the government found itself facing mutinies by other troops and paramilitary gendarmes.

Late on Thursday, a soldier presented as a spokesperson for some 8 400 former rebels said in a televised ceremony that they wished to apologise to President Ouattara for the mutiny.

The world's top cocoa provider, Ivory Coast has an army numbering around 22 000 soldiers, among them many former rebels who were integrated into the armed forces after years of conflict.

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

Read more on:    alassane ouattara  |  ivory coast  |  west africa

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