Second I Coast soldier killed as mutiny protests return

(File : AFP)
(File : AFP)

Yamoussoukro - Two mutinous soldiers were killed in Ivory Coast's administrative capital on Tuesday, as troops staged protests in several cities, firing shots in the air and terrifying residents.

The soldiers' deaths in Yamoussoukro were the first since a revolt among troops over pay erupted on January 5, stoking security fears in the world's top cocoa producer.

One soldier was "killed by the [loyalist] Republican Guard" in Yamoussoukro, a military source told AFP.

The Republican Guard is an elite military force linked to the presidency.

A source close to the defence ministry confirmed the death, although the precise circumstances of the incident remained unclear.

Another died of injuries after he was shot, military sources said.

The latest wave of protests came after a mutiny was quelled by an agreement with the government last week.

Soldiers involved in the first protests started receiving their payments Tuesday, though some banks were forced to shut because of the unrest.

Under the deal, 8 500 mutinous troops were promised $19 000 each.

The $19 000 are due to be delivered by February 5, although it remains unclear how the government of the west African nation intends to finance the payments.

The revolt has seen President Alassane Ouattara order major changes in the top security ranks - the armed forces' chief of staff, the senior commander of the national gendarmerie and the director-general of the police.

Enraged that they were excluded from the deal, other troops took to the streets of Yamoussoukro and Bouake on Tuesday, firing in the air as scared residents took refuge.

"This morning, we took to the streets with our weapons. We want to show the whole world our dissatisfaction," a soldier protesting in Bouake told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We don't understand why some soldiers are being paid  $19 000 bonus, while a whole other group is being forgotten," he said.

"We condemn this injustice in our army... If there is a bonus, it should be for everyone."

We're hiding

Other cities across the country - Daloa in central Ivory Coast, Man in the west, Bondoukou in the northeast and Dimbokro in the south - also saw troops take to the streets.

Witnesses in Yamoussoukro earlier told AFP they saw soldiers firing shots in the air and stealing vehicles.

"I decided to go home," resident Koffi Germain said.

"We're hiding, there's a lot of shooting," a civil servant told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In Bouake, an AFP journalist also saw soldiers firing in the air.

Fearing for their safety, Bouake residents took shelter in their homes, the journalist said.

Several banks were forced shut by the shooting, angering soldiers who were picking up their payments.

"The banks closed before everyone was paid," one of the mutineers involved in last week's deal told AFP.

"Whoever fires a single shot in the air will have to deal with us so long as we haven't all been paid," he warned.

Waves of unrest 

Bouake, which is home to 1.5 million people, was the cradle of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The revolt sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

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

Ivory Coast has long been west Africa's star economic performer. But when Gbagbo refused to step down despite an election defeat in 2010, 3 000 people were killed in months of conflict.

With a 10% yearly economic growth rate, the west African country is now back on the rails.

The International Monetary Fund said last month that Ivory Coast was on track towards becoming the continent's fastest-growing economy.

The latest mutiny, however, has raised fears the country might slip back into deadly unrest.

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