Ivory Coast mutiny: Soldiers 'open fire' outside house where minister trapped despite President announcing deal

Rebels seize Bouake, Ivory Coast's second city, before moving into Abidjan and four other towns

Rachael Pells,Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 07 January 2017 17:36
Lieutenant-colonel Issiaka Ouattara (centre), also known as Wattao, flanked by soldiers, arrives at the deputy prefect's residence in Bouake for talks with the deputy prefect and Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi
Lieutenant-colonel Issiaka Ouattara (centre), also known as Wattao, flanked by soldiers, arrives at the deputy prefect's residence in Bouake for talks with the deputy prefect and Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi

Soldiers in Ivory Coast's second largest city have reportedly opened fire, trapping the defence minister in a local official's house despite a deal to end two-day mutiny.

The dramatic turn of events came just an hour and a half after President Alassane Ouattara announced he had agreed to the soldiers' demands for bonus payments and improved living standards.

In addition to defence minister Alain-Richard Donwahi, the deputy commander of the elite Republican Guard, the mayor of Bouake and other local officials as well as journalists were trapped inside the sub-prefect's residence.

Mr Donwahi called for calm on Friday and said the government was prepared to listen to the soldiers’ grievances after the uprising spread to cities including Daloa, Daoukro and Odienne.

Calling the revolt “understandable but deplorable for the image of the country”, he said he was due to travel to Bouake on Saturday to speak directly with the mutineers.

A crowd of angry soldiers massed outside the house on Saturday evening, when a Reuters reporter said he heard some shouting that they wanted their bonuses paid immediately, not next week.

Speaking to his government ministers and reporters before the incident, Mr Ouattara said he had agreed to some of the soldiers' grievances but chastised them for sparking the unrest.

“I would like to say that this manner of making demands is not appropriate. It tarnishes the image of our country after all our efforts to revive the economy,” the President added before calling upon the soldiers to return to barracks.

A member of the uprising close to the negotiations said the mutineers were satisfied with the deal and were preparing to leave the streets.

“It's over,” Sergeant Mamadou Kone told Reuters. “Some of our soldiers will remain in place to manage the security of shops and banks, but the majority of soldiers will return to barracks beginning tonight.”

The two-day mutiny spread to the country’s commercial capital of Abidjan, following demands made by military personnel for higher wages. It began early on Friday when the soldiers seized Bouake, the second-largest city in the west-African nations, before spreading to at least four other towns and cities.

The defence minister is said to have travelled to Bouake to discuss the group’s demands, while loyalist troops have sought to reinforce security in Abidjan.

An Ivory Coast MP said that soldiers involved in the clash had made demands of $8,000 (£6,500) and a house each, according to the BBC.

Heavy gunfire was heard during the night in the northern city of Korhogo and early on Saturday in Bouake.

Residents and soldiers later reported shooting in Man, Toulepleu and at a major military camp in Abidjan, where the president, administration and parliament are based.

“Shooting has started in our camp too now,” said one soldier at the Akouedo military base, located in a residential section of Abidjan. The gunfire was confirmed by a local resident.

A diplomatic source said armed dissident soldiers – some of whom blackened their faces with ashes or wore scarves around their heads – blocked a main road near the camp and threatened people in passing cars.

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Abidjan residents, meanwhile, rushed to supermarkets to buy up bottled water and other provisions, fearing violence could eventually paralyse the city.

Ivory Coast, which emerged from a 10-year civil war in 2011, now has West Africa's largest economy.

However, years of conflict and a failure to reform its army, thrown together from a patchwork of former rebel fighters and government soldiers, have left it with an unruly military force stunted by internal divisions.

A Reuters reporter in Bouake, who met some of the mutineers, said they were composed of low-ranking soldiers but also included some demobilised combatants.

Nearly all appeared to be former members of the New Forces rebellion, which had used Bouake as its de facto capital and controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast from 2002 until the country was reunited following a 2011 civil war.

The rogue soldiers remained on the streets of the city on Saturday despite pledges made to local officials that they would return to barracks.

“They are maintaining their positions. They are still at the entrances to the city and at the central roundabout,” a local journalist told Reuters

Troop reinforcements were sent towards Bouake after word of the revolt reached the army headquarters in Abidjan, creating a standoff with renegade soldiers holding positions at the entrance to the city.

Soldiers from the country’s UN peacekeeping mission were also blocked on the outskirts of Bouake on Saturday after mutineers refused to allow them to enter.

During a similar uprising in 2014, when hundreds of soldiers barricaded roads in cities across Ivory Coast demanding back pay, the government agreed a financial settlement.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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