Daily Nation (Kenya)
Soldiers demanding more pay and housing protested in several cities around Ivory Coast on Friday, raiding arms depots and taking control of streets, residents and officials said.
The government held a meeting of the National Crisis Committee to discuss the situation, a source close to the defence ministry said.
The protests began in Bouake, the country’s second largest city and former 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.
“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.”
In a statement read out on national television, Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi called on “all soldiers to remain calm and return to their baracks, to enable the search for lasting solutions for every component of the Ivory Coast’s armed forces.”
He said the soldiers demanded payment of bonuses, increased pay, faster promotion and an explanation about a purported bonus for serving in a regional multilateral force.
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 3:00 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.
Several people in Bouake reached by telephone from the economic capital Abidjan said the shooting began in the early morning hours.
“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.”