Demobilised soldiers launched mutinies in Ivory Coast’s second-largest city Bouaké on Friday, according to military sources and residents.
Heavy gunfire was heard from around 2am (0200 GMT) in Bouaké – a city of around a half million inhabitants in the centre of the country – and sporadic shooting continued into the late morning.
Military sources said demobilised soldiers – mainly former rebels from the decade-long conflict – broke into police stations across the city, looting weapons before taking up positions at entry points into the city.
“The situation currently is that there’s sort of a standstill reportedly in the city of Bouaké… between soldiers who have been demilitarised from the previous civil war that occurred in the country, which ended in 2011,” FRANCE 24’s Sean Lyngaas reported from the capital Abidjan. “It appears they are demanding pay that they say they are owed.”
Shooting also broke out mid-morning at a military base in Daloa, the main trading hub in Ivory Coast’s western cocoa belt. Residents said demobilised soldiers were behind the unrest, according to Reuters.
Bouaké was the seat of a rebellion that controlled the northern half of the world’s top cocoa grower from 2002 until Ivory Coast was reunited following a civil war in 2011.
Residents stayed home and businesses remained closed on Friday morning.
“We’re hearing sporadic gunfire, but nothing alarming. With that said, businesses are closed and there are very few people in the streets,” a Bouaké resident told FRANCE 24’s The Observers. “I can see soldiers driving around on motorcycles and hanging off of the side of cars from my balcony. They’re in control of the entrance and exit to the city.”
An officer at Ivory Coast’s military headquarters in the commercial capital Abidjan said reinforcements had been sent to Bouaké.
“The situation remains unstable and serious in Bouaké... Some civilians and even active-duty soldiers have started to rally to them,” he told Reuters.
He added that, while the ex-soldiers had not yet stated their demands, it was believed that they were seeking payment of money they believed they were owed by the government.
A facility in Bouaké housing around 200 former soldiers, who were initially brought into the army before later being demobilised, was closed in November.
A similar uprising occurred in 2014 when hundreds of soldiers barricaded roads in several cities and towns across the country demanding payment of back wages. The government agreed a financial settlement with the soldiers, who returned to barracks.
Source: FRANCE 24 with REUTERS