BOUAKÉ. – Cote d’Ivoire said yesterday a deal had been reached with renegade soldiers to end their mutiny days after they took to the streets in major cities across the West African state in protest at their unpaid bonuses.
In a statement yesterday, Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi urged the mutinous soldiers “to free up the roads, to go back to their barracks and to keep the peace.”
A spokesman from the mutineers allegedly confirmed the deal and said it included an immediate bonus payment of 5 million CFA francs ($8 400) for the 8 400 mutineers as well as a further payment of 2 million CFA francs at the end of June. “We accept the government’s proposal . . . We are returning to barracks now,” Sergeant Seydou Kone, one of the revolt’s leaders, allegedly said.
“We’ve just handed back control of the entrances to the city to the police and gendarmes this (yesterday) morning, and we’re returning to our barracks,” said Sergeant Cisse, another spokesman for the group, referring to Bouake.
News of the agreement comes shortly after the mutinous soldiers denied government’s claim about reaching an agreement late on Monday.
The mutiny is the latest in a series of armed protests since January in the West African country, with troops angered by a wage dispute with President Alassane Ouattara’s government. “This is not a coup. We want our bonuses. The president signed a paper saying he agreed with our bonuses. When he pays up, we’ll go home,” said a spokesman for troops at Bouake barracks, the centre of the latest protest.
“We’ll fight to the end. We won’t lay down arms,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity from the city where the protest movement began earlier this year. “8 500 of us brought Ouattara to power, we don’t want him to leave but he’s got to keep his word. It’s that simple,” he added as a group of soldiers, some wearing masks, let off shots.
Meanwhile, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have expressed concern over the tense security atmosphere in Cote d’Ivoire.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the AU chief said on Monday that he was closely following events in Cote d’Ivoire. “These grievances can be expressed peacefully in order to avoid a new crisis,” the AU chief tweeted.
Leaders of both political blocs, however, called on the aggrieved soldiers to resort to negotiations to peacefully resolve the impasse.
ECOWAS leader and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for immediate cessation of shooting which she said threatened civilian lives. While condemning the actions of the soldiers, Johnson Sirleaf also admonished them to return to the barracks and use negotiations to settle their issue with the government.
The head of the army said on Sunday troops were being sent to Bouake to “re-establish order” but a Reuters team travelling from the capital Yamoussoukro towards the city, saw only a handful of loyalist military vehicles.
In another development, banks were ordered to remain closed as a security measure amid the uncertainty. The former star French colony has since been slowly regaining its credentials as a West African powerhouse and a haven of peace and prosperity. But falling cocoa prices have gobbled the government’s finances.
The current round of trouble began last Thursday when a soldier presented as a spokesman for the former rebels said they wished to apologise to President Ouattara for the January mutiny and were renouncing their demand for huge payouts.
But the “apology”, which was delivered in a televised ceremony, was viewed with scepticism by many of the mutinous soldiers.
Last year, the Ivorian government unveiled a plan to modernise the military, part of which would involve the departure of several thousand men, mainly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced. — News Agencies/HR.