Abidjan — Rebel soldiers in Ivory Coast said on Tuesday that they were ending a four-day mutiny which drew in troops from across the country, after reaching agreement with the government over a wages dispute.
News of the deal was confirmed by a spokesman for the disgruntled troops, who said their financial demands had been met, ending a dispute which began in January. "We have found a basis for agreement. We are returning to barracks," Sergeant Cisse Fousseni told AFP, ending the latest round of unrest that began early on Friday.
Another spokesman said details of the deal were "top secret" but others confirmed that the mutineers’ demands had been fully met. The mutiny, which sowed disruption across the world’s top cocoa-producing nation, resulted in soldiers firing angrily into the air and heavy gunfire in Ivory Coast’s two biggest cities, in which one person died.
Heavy gunfire erupted on Monday at the country’s largest military barracks in eastern Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital, as well as in Gallieni camp in the city centre where banks, offices and department stores were closed. Troops also seized control of Bouaké, the country’s second city, where sustained gunfire rang out. Border posts were closed, halting traffic to neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The mutiny was the latest in a series of armed protests which began in January, with troops angered by a wage dispute with President Alassane Ouattara’s government. That uprising ended when the government agreed to pay the soldiers bonuses of 12-million CFA francs €(18,000) each. At the time, they were given a partial payment of 5-million CFA francs with the remainder due to be paid this month, but the last payment never materialised, prompting the latest round of unrest.
According to sources among the rebel soldiers, the government has now agreed to give them an immediate payment of 5-million CFA francs, with the remaining 2-million to be paid next month.
With the agreement, the soldiers have now secured "everything which had been promised in January", one source told AFP.
On Monday evening, Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi said a deal had been reached but did not give any details, with soldiers continuing to fire their weapons in a show of scepticism. "We do not recognise the agreement. How do you have a baptism without the baby? No representative from Bouaké was there on Monday for their ‘deal’," said one mutineer, referring to the city where the rebellion began, but by Tuesday morning, the deal appeared to be confirmed.
The city of Bouaké served as the rebel headquarters following a failed coup in 2002 which split Ivory Coast in half and led to years of unrest. Ouattara took office in 2011 after months of deadly election violence in which more than 8,000 rebels supported him against troops backing the former head of state, Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede defeat at the ballot box.
Many of the rebels subsequently joined the regular army, which currently numbers some 22,000 troops. After years of unrest, the former French colony has been slowly regaining its credentials as a West African powerhouse and a haven of peace and prosperity. But falling cocoa prices have hobbled the government’s finances.
Last year, the government unveiled a plan to modernise the military, part of which will involve the departure of several thousand men, mainly former rebels, who will not be replaced.