Ivory Coast troops rise up demanding pay, houses
Soldiers demanding more pay and housing rose up in several cities around Ivory Coast on Friday, raiding arms depots and taking control of streets, residents and officials said.
The uprising began in Bouake, the country’s second city and onetime rebel stronghold, where heavy weapons fire was heard in the streets, before spreading to two other major urban centres.
In Bouake, soldiers “broke into the armoury of the 3rd Battalion”, arming themselves with rocket-launchers and other weapons mounted on pickup trucks, a military source said.
Troops also took to the streets in the large western town of Daloa and at Korhogo in the north of Ivory Coast, Africa’s leading cocoa-producing nation, according to residents and army sources.
“It’s a mutiny by former (rebel) fighters integrated into the army who are demanding bonuses of five million CFA francs ($8,000 / 7,600 euros) each plus a house,” an officer in Bouake told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.
But one of the soldiers said the demands were even higher.
“We’re not asking for five million CFA francs, but rather for 10 million each and a villa,” the soldier said. “If necessary, we will not return to the barracks.”
An AFP journalist in Bouake, where ex-rebels have been integrated into military ranks, said troops attacked all seven police posts, manned strategic junctions and put up barricades in the town centre.
“There is no more traffic. The firing of Kalashnikovs can be heard near the 3rd Battalion” camp, the journalist added.
The troops “have taken up positions at different sections of the city. They can be seen parading around in police vehicles.”
A police source said the soldiers arrived at one police station at about 3 am (0300 GMT) and took away their Kalashnikov rifles.
The police headquarters in the city was also attacked, the source said.
All businesses and schools were closed in Bouake, which became the capital of a rebellion that split Ivory Coast in two after former president Laurent Ggagbo stayed in power after a foiled 2002 coup attempt.
The effective partitioning of the country between a rebel-held north and a loyalist south sparked a decade of clashes and crises.
Rebel forces generally backed current President Alassane Ouattara, who took office in April 2011 after a bloody post-electoral showdown which ended when Gbagbo was arrested.
– ‘We’re scared, hiding out’ –
Several people in Bouake reached by telephone from the economic capital Abidjan said the shooting began between 2 and 3 am.
“I was really scared. I thought that they were going to come into my station to take petrol for free as they do regularly,” Koffi Raphael, who runs a petrol station not far from the barracks, told AFP.
In Daloa, “soldiers on motorbikes are driving around town shooting into the air,” one resident told AFP.
“There’s gunfire, we’re scared, hiding out at home,” said another.
“The insurrection has been seen in this town,” a military source reached in Korhogo said. “The streets are occupied by soldiers.”
In November 2014, a strike by former rebels who had joined the army ground the country to a standstill after spreading to Abidjan from Bouake.
The nearly 9,000 strikers, who joined the army between 2009 and 2011, were demanding full payment of back pay and promotions.
Gbagbo was turned over to the International Criminal Court, where his trial began in January last year for crimes against humanity.