Protesting soldiers in Ivory Coast return to barracks, await talks


Soldiers in Ivory Coast returned to barracks on Wednesday after some overnight disturbances, witnesses said, after the government agreed to pay back wages to thousands of ex-rebels in the army in a move to calm unrest.

The world’s top cocoa-producing state is still emerging from a decade of political upheaval and a 2011 civil war that saw French- and U.N.-backed rebels topple President Laurent Gbagbo after his refusal to accept an election defeat.

The defence minister was due to meet in the afternoon with a delegation representing disgruntled soldiers, who on Tuesday erected barricades in the commercial capital Abidjan and the second city Bouake as well as in Korhogo, Odienne, and Daloa.

Residents in the northern town of Korhogo and in Daloa, an important hub of the cocoa industry in the west, said armed soldiers deployed to major crossroads overnight but were off the streets by morning. Odienne and Abidjan were also calm.

In Bouake, the former stronghold of the New Forces rebellion and the epicentre of the protests, soldiers looted the city’s central police station overnight.
“They took the computers and vehicles there. They wrecked the offices and tried to break into the armoury but didn’t succeed. The damage is enormous,” a witness told Reuters.

While Tuesday’s demonstrations remained largely calm and most of the soldiers were unarmed, they sharpened after Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi accepted some of their demands, with sporadic gunfire occurring in Bouake, Daloa and Korhogo.

In Bouake, soldiers entered state television and radio to try to broadcast a message rejecting Koffi Koffi’s offer but were unable to do so after staff fled.

Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko later announced that the government had agreed to demands of back wages for over 9,000 soldiers and would open talks with them on Wednesday.

Some of the soldiers are demanding government salaries covering part of the time they served in the rebellion. Others want promotions, benefits and payment of a 5 million CFA franc ($9,557) bonus they say each was promised three years ago while fighting in support of current President Alassane Ouattara.