BOUAKE. — Gunfire rocked cities in Cote d’Ivoire yesterday as a mutiny by disgruntled soldiers gathered pace in defiance of government action against a revolt that threatens the country’s rapid emergence from a civil war.
The troops who rebelled over delayed bonus payments controlled the second city Bouake, and heavy gunfire also hit San Pedro, a crucial port for exports of cocoa.
Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa producer and London cocoa futures LCCc2 climbed to a five-week high due to the unrest as businesses in the sector closed. “The mutineers are in San Pedro. They are everywhere. There is heavy gunfire. Everyone is closing shop and heading home,” said a cocoa exporter based in the city.
Three other residents confirmed the gunfire. Authorities will maintain a firm line with the mutiny, government spokesman Bruno Kone said. While there was no negotiations under way with the soldiers, “discussions were continuing” and a military operation against them was ongoing.
The head of the army said on Sunday troops were being sent to Bouake to “re-establish order”, but a Reuters team traveling from the capital Yamoussoukro toward the city, saw only a handful of loyalist military vehicles.
Most of the large column of troops spotted on Sunday evening appeared to have withdrawn, suggesting any government operation was not yet fully under way.
More than 200 commercial trucks were stranded on the roadside after mutinous soldiers sealed off the southern entrance to Bouake yesterday, Reuters witnesses said.
Sporadic gunfire was heard overnight in Bouake as well as at military camps in the commercial capital Abidjan. Shooting in both cities intensified before dawn. “There was heavy shooting at the northern entrance to the city and in the city centre. It has calmed a bit, but we’re still hearing gunfire,” said one Bouake resident.
Other residents confirmed the shooting. The four-day-old revolt divides a society that emerged from a decade of political turmoil and a civil war in 2011 to become one of the world’s fastest growing economies under President Alassane Ouattara.
The government promised bonus payments to the soldiers after a mutiny in January, but they were not fully paid after a collapse in the price of cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main export, causing a revenue crunch.
The issue triggered a wave of mutinies that has exposed the lack of unity in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist combatants.
In signs of the economic impact of the crisis, the banking association, the APBEF, ordered all banks to remain closed yesterday and many businesses at the port in Abidjan from which cocoa is exported were also closed. — Reuters.