Mutinous soldiers in Ivory Coast shot two people and cut off access to the second largest city, Bouake, on Saturday, as a nationwide revolt over demands for bonus payments extended into a second day despite government warnings of harsh punishment. The revolt began in Bouake early on Friday before spreading quickly, following a similar pattern to a mutiny by the same group in January that paralysed parts of Ivory Coast and marred its image as a post-war success story. Mutineers seized control of the national military headquarters and defence ministry in the centre of the commercial capital Abidjan on Friday.
They stepped up the pressure on Saturday, blocking roads out of Bouake, the epicentre of January’s uprising, and protesting in several other locations, including the northern city of Korhogo, where two men on a motorcycle were shot as they tried to force their way through a roadblock manned by the mutineers.
“They shot at them. They were wounded and transported to the hospital,” said witness Amadou Yeo, adding that the two men had been shot in the legs.
Also in Korhogo, soldiers fired into air to disperse a group of residents that had gathered to protest against the uprising, sending people fleeing home. Shops were shuttered and the streets were largely empty.
“We do not want to negotiate with anyone,” said Sergeant Seydou Kone, one of the leaders of the uprising, speaking by phone from Bouake. “We’re also ready to fight if we are attacked. We have nothing to lose.”
In a statement on state television late on Friday, Military Chief of Staff General Sekou Toure threatened the soldiers with severe disciplinary sanctions if they did not end the revolt.
Ivory Coast’s defence minister and government spokesman were not reachable for comment on Saturday.
The soldiers were promised bonus payments by the government after the January mutiny but it has struggled to disburse the money following a budget crunch caused by the collapse in the price of cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main export.
“WE WANT OUR 7 MILLION”
Ivory Coast has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies following a decade-long political crisis ended by a 2011 civil war. But deep divisions persist, particularly in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist combatants.
The government has already paid 8,400 soldiers – most of them former rebels who helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power – bonuses of 5 million CFA francs ($8,371) each as part of a deal to end the January mutiny.
On Thursday, following a meeting with authorities in Abidjan, a spokesman for the group said they would forego demands for remaining bonuses of 7 million francs.
But that decision was rejected by some of the soldiers.
“We want our 7 million and that’s it,” said Kone.
Bouake residents said shops remained closed as soldiers fired weapons in the air and patrolled the streets in cars.
Mutineers also took control of the northern city of Odienne and there was sporadic gunfire in Daloa, the main cocoa growing hub in southwestern Ivory Coast, which is the world’s top producer of the chocolate ingredient.
Kone said the mutineers were also active in Man near the western border with Liberia, and Bondoukou in the east.
“Perhaps the government is tired of this, but they must sit down and talk,” said retired gendarme Valentin Sokoure, speaking near the military headquarters in Abidjan where the barricades had been removed Saturday morning. “I just want the government to negotiate with the mutineers.”