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Heavy gunfire heard in Ivory Coast’s key city as soldiers’ revolt persists

7 January 2017 13:23

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Heavy gunfire has been heard near the main military base in Ivory Coast’s second largest city of Bouake as disgruntled soldiers remain in control of the city after waging a mutiny over wages.

“The shooting is very heavy right now at the 3rd Battalion. I’m nearby and I hear it like it was right next to us,” said a Bouake resident Konan Benoit in a phone contact on Saturday as quoted in a report by Reuters, which added that gunfire could be heard on the line.

Heavy fighting and gunfire exchanges broke out early on Saturday near the key military camp in the city of nearly half a million inhabitants, where angry soldiers and military officers started a revolt against the central government over pay and bonuses a day earlier.

Most of those involved in the armed revolt are reportedly former rebels who were later integrated into the nation’s army.

The United Nations has dispatched soldiers to Bouake in a bid to defuse the situation, but they were forced to wait in a line along with hundreds of stranded vehicles and trucks whose passage to the city was blocked by the mutinous soldiers.

A picture taken in Bouake on January 6, 2017 shows UN Blue Helmet peacekeepers vehicles arriving at the entrance of the city where soldiers demanding more pay and housing revolted earlier in the day.  (Photo by AFP)

Reports indicate that the uprising has spread to a number of other cities with the nation’s Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi declaring on national television that a group of soldiers had used their weapons to force their way into Bouake’s military headquarters shortly after midnight to make known their demands.

Latest reports further indicate that gunfire has also erupted at a military base in Ivory Coast’s capital of Abijan with news outlets also citing residents as saying that shootings broke out in western city of Man on Saturday as well, but it was not immediately clear whether the gunfire was related to the revolt waged by soldiers.

“Mainly they revolved around the issue of payment, timely bonuses, around grades, the time it takes to get to the superior grade. There were also demands relating to the living conditions for soldiers,” Donwahi stated.

He further described the move by the rebelling soldiers as “deplorable,” reasoning that the nation was recovering from a deep crisis. However, he also noted that their grievances were “understandable” and that he would travel to Bouake on Saturday to speak to the revolting soldiers.

“We shall talk with our men, collect their concerns and then find solutions to this situation which is deplorable, it’s understandable but still deplorable because of the image of our country, because of the work done by the president of the republic since coming out of the crisis, to demonstrate in this way can be prejudicial to our country but we understand what happened,” Donwahi added.

Passengers rest next to a bus, some 15 km from Bouake, as they wait to enter the large city on January 6, 2016.  (Photo by AFP)

The defense minister, who confirmed that five cities has so far been affected by the uprising, made the remarks following an emergency meeting with other members of the African country’s National Security Council, including President Alassane Ouattara and senior military officers.

According to press reports, exchange of gunfire also erupted at a military base in Daloa city, the main trading hub in the western cocoa belt, where civilians said soldiers, some wearing masks, were patrolling the streets in sport utility vehicles.

The city of Bouake was the seat of another uprising that began in Ivory Coast in 2002 and controlled the northern half of the country until it was reunited following a civil war in 2011.

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