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Ivory Coast government and rebel troops reach deal
by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Jan 14, 2017

Shots heard from inside military camp in I.Coast's Abidjan
Abidjan (AFP) Jan 13, 2017 - Shooting was heard late Friday from inside the main military camp in Abidjan, Ivory's Coast's economic capital, witnesses said Friday, days after a brief mutiny by the armed forces.

"There were shots, bursts of gunfire coming from the barracks. It stopped and started again," Mathilde Kouadio, a teacher living nearby, told AFP.

The gunfire coincided with tense talks in Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake between the defence minister and rebellious troops.

The revolt, which lasted two days, saw soldiers seize Bouake, firing shots in the air and terrifying residents, while demanding bonuses, better pay and houses.

The protests spread to other cities, including Abidjan.

A deal to end the mutiny was struck on Sunday, led on the government side by Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi, who was briefly held by the mutineers.

The following day, Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara ordered major changes in the top security ranks -- the armed forces' chief of staff, the senior commander of the national gendarmerie and the director-general of the police.

Talks on implementing the agreement began in Bouake on Friday, again with Donwahi, but tension was high.

Rebel troops took up positions on the roads into the town, and on two occasions fired into the air to disperse demonstrators who protested against their behaviour.

Bouake, which is home to 1.5 million people, was the cradle of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then president Laurent Gbagbo.

The revolt sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

Ivory Coast's government and rebel troops have reached a final deal at talks in Bouake, government sources said late Friday at the close of a tense day which saw outbreaks of gunfire at barracks across the country.

Soldiers in Bouake mutinied earlier this month, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents of Ivory Coast's second largest city, while demanding bonuses, better pay and housing.

The protests then spread to other cities, including the economic capital Abidjan, stoking security fears in the world's top cocoa producer.

The mutiny saw President Alassane Ouattara order major changes in the top security ranks -- the armed forces' chief of staff, the senior commander of the national gendarmerie and the director-general of the police.

"A deal has been reached in Bouake between the chief of staff, the defence minister and the (rebel) troops," a source close to the presidency told AFP late Friday.

Several rebel soldiers confirmed that a deal had been struck, with one telling AFP: "We are pleased, we've reached an agreement".

"The troops have agreed to return to their barracks, and for this reason gunfire has halted in Bouake," a local official said. He said the mutineers had managed to obtain a bonus of about 7,500 euros ($8,000).

While an initial deal had been reached almost a week ago, talks on implementing the agreement only began Friday and tensions were high with rebel troops taking up positions on the roads into Bouake and firing into the air.

Regular gunfire was heard throughout the day, including at Akouedo, the biggest barracks in the capital Abidjan and at Odienne in the northwest and Bondoukou in the east.

There were fears before the deal was struck that the defence minister could be taken hostage and a general mutiny unleased. However, he left the talks unharmed.

One source said the soldiers had originally been demanding a raise of 15,000 euros each, a significant amount given that many Ivorians earn about 150 euros a month.

It remains to be seen how the government will finance its promise of the agreed 7,500 euro bonus.

In more problems for the government, Ivorian state employees were also on strike this week protesting against pension cuts and a plan to raise the retirement age.

Bouake, which is home to 1.5 million people, was the cradle of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The revolt sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

Twelve years later, a similar dispute over pay by rebels-turned-soldiers erupted in Bouake which spread to Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill.

The government then agreed to a deal that provided amnesty for the mutineers and a financial settlement.

The Ivorian army, which consists of about 22,000 soldiers, includes many former rebels who were integrated into the armed forces after years of conflict.

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