One person died Sunday after mutinous soldiers took to the streets in Ivory Coast’s central second city Bouake as fresh tensions gripped the world’s top cocoa grower.
The victim was among five men and a mother-of-three who were hospitalised after being struck by warning shots fired to keep residents inside their homes, an AFP photographer saw.
About 15 others were treated for minor injuries.
“(He), Issouf Diawara, finally died from his bullet wounds,” his brother Souleymane Diawara told AFP. “I am a distraught man.”
Diawara was hit on Saturday amid clashes between former rebels, some of whom have now been integrated into the army, and those who have disarmed but not integrated.
The two groups are clashing over government payments.
Under a deal negotiated with the government in January, struck after the ex-rebel soldiers’ first mutiny, they were to be paid bonuses of 12 million CFA francs (18,000 euros) each, with an initial payment of five million francs that month.
The remainder was to be paid starting this month, according to rebel sources.
But the government has struggled to pay the soldiers the promised money, while the non-military ex-fighters are now demanding their own government payments.
The soldiers revolted over the bonus payments by taking to the streets on Friday and blocked access to Bouake, which served as the rebel headquarters after a failed 2002 coup which split Ivory Coast in half and led to years of unrest.
Several Bouake residents were beaten by patrolling renegade soldiers.
Another person was injured by soldiers rebelling in Korhogo, the main city in the north.
Armed forces chief of staff, General Sekou Toure, said in a statement Sunday that “a military operation is underway to re-establish order” and made a televised appeal to the disgruntled soldiers to return to barracks.
Later the protesting soldiers reopened access to Bouake, while still insisting on the promised money and refusing to hand in their guns.
“We want the money, that’s all. There’s nothing to discuss,” one of them said, after firing his Kalashnikov rifle into the air.
The mutineers also attacked the headquarters of President Alassane Ouattara’s ruling Rally of Republicans RDR party.
“Everyone who was there was badly beaten. There are many injured,” party official Moriba Toure told AFP
Korhogo residents had gathered to protest against the mutiny but were dispersed by the rebellious soldiers.
Troops have also rebelled in the central city of Daloa, a major trading hub in Ivory Coast’s cocoa belt.
On Sunday, rebels took up positions on a roundabout in front of Bouake’s police headquarters, shooting into the air to prevent residents gathering for a planned protest against their revolt.
“There’s too much shooting this morning, it’s practically impossible to go and attend mass. I’ll pray with my family at home,” local resident Jean Yves Kobena said.
– ‘We’re ready’ –
Bouake was the epicentre of the mutiny in January by the former rebel soldiers who had been integrated into the army.
Negotiations Saturday between the rebels and military commanders in Bouake failed to end the blockade and the rebels warned they would fight back if the army tried to intervene.
“They can send whoever they want. We’re ready,” one of several masked soldiers at one checkpoint told AFP.
Many of the soldiers participated in the 2002 uprising aimed at bolstering support for Ouattara.
They also backed Ouattara against Ivory Coast’s long-time leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept his defeat to Ouattara in a much-delayed 2010 presidential election.
The rebels controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast until 2011, and were later integrated into the army.
On Thursday, a soldier presented as a spokesman for some 8,400 former rebels said in a televised ceremony that they wished to apologise to President Ouattara for the mutiny and renounced the demand for huge payouts.
But this was largely viewed with scepticism in the former star French colony, which is slowly regaining its credentials as a West African powerhouse and a haven of peace and prosperity.
Ivory Coast has an army numbering around 22,000 soldiers, but falling cocoa prices have severely crimped the government’s finances.
Last year, the government unveiled an ambitious plan to modernise the military, part of which would involve the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.