Ivory Coast announces deal to end standoff with mutinous soldiers
Not clear if new agreement will restore peace to country with a long history of military mutinies
Ivory Coast announced a deal Friday night to end a standoff with soldiers who staged a mutiny last week, though the terms were not confirmed and it was unclear whether security would be fully restored in Africa's fastest-growing economy.
The deal was reached after tense negotiations in Bouake, the country's second-largest city, between soldiers and a delegation led by the defence minister, said government spokesman Bruno Kone.
In the hours before the deal was announced, hundreds of soldiers converged on the house where the negotiations were taking place, and gunfire erupted at multiple military bases in Abidjan, the commercial capital.
The mutineers' demands included bonuses, higher salaries, faster promotions and improved living conditions. The bonuses amounted to nearly $20,000 each for more than 8,000 soldiers, according to several people who participated in the negotiations.
Officials would not confirm the terms of the deal, but one soldier, who insisted on anonymity, said the government had agreed to pay the bonuses in instalments beginning with payments of over $8,000 to each soldier on Monday. If accurate, the resolution could end up costing the government over $150 million for the bonuses alone.
It is the second time the government has announced a deal to end the standoff. President Alassane Ouattara said a deal was reached Jan. 7, one day after the mutiny began.
But almost as soon as that was announced, some soldiers in Bouake made clear they were dissatisfied with that deal, firing their weapons and temporarily holding the defence minister hostage.
History of mutinies
Ouattara came to power in 2011 after a post-election crisis that claimed more than 3,000 lives. The crisis was triggered by former president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat and step down. It capped more than a decade of turmoil that began with the country's first coup in 1999.
Ivory Coast has seen about 10 mutinies since 1990, with the most recent taking place in 2014.
Ouattara has criticized the soldiers' tactics during the latest crisis, and many Ivorians expressed frustration with the renewed unrest. Before the talks began Friday, soldiers fired weapons to disperse a protest by civilians in Bouake who were angry that the standoff had disrupted economic activity in the city, said Fanta Kourouma, a Bouake resident.
The security situation deteriorated quickly Friday evening, with soldiers assuming control of main roads in Bouake. Phone service to the city was severely impaired for several hours.
In Abidjan, witnesses reported gunfire at military installations in the residential Cocody district and in the central Plateau district, where Camp Gallieni, the army headquarters, is located.
A gendarmerie official in Plateau, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press, said he heard shots near the gendarmerie headquarters there.
"They chased our guys from their post," he said, referring to the mutinous soldiers.
The mutiny shows that while progress has been made in demobilizing tens of thousands of combatants and reintegrating fighters from various factions since the 2011 conflict, a sense of discipline and respect for a chain of command are still lacking, said Cynthia Ohayon, West Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group.