Six wounded as mutinous I.Coast soldiers cut off key city

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Mutinous soldiers wounded six people in Ivory Coast's second city Bouake on Sunday. Picture: AFP

Mutinous soldiers wounded six people in Ivory Coast’s second city Bouake on Sunday as fresh tensions gripped the world’s top cocoa grower.

Five men and a mother of three children were brought to hospital in the central city of Bouake after being struck by warning shots fired to keep residents inside their homes, an AFP photographer saw.

About 15 others were treated for minor injuries.

The soldiers took to the streets Friday in a revolt over bonus payments and blocked access to Bouake, which served as the rebel headquarters after a failed 2002 coup which split Ivory Coast in half and led to years of unrest.

Several Bouake residents were beaten by patrolling renegade soldiers.

The soldiers had already shot and seriously wounded one person Saturday in Bouake, while another person was injured by soldiers rebelling in Korhogo, the main city in the north.

Korhogo residents had also gathered to protest against the mutiny but were dispersed by the rebellious soldiers. Soldiers have also rebelled in the central city of Daloa, a major trading hub in Ivory Coast’s cocoa belt.

On Sunday, rebels took up positions in a roundabout in front of Bouake’s police headquarters, shooting into the air to prevent residents gathering for a planned protest against their revolt.

“The shooting is continuing. The mutineers aren’t letting people leave their homes to demonstrate,” said a resident who requested anonymity.

“There’s too much shooting this morning, it’s practically impossible to go and attend mass. I’ll pray with my family at home,” another resident, Jean Yves Kobena, said.

The soldiers posted at the four main access points to Bouake have also been extorting money from drivers hoping to cross the city.

– ‘We’re ready’ –

Soldiers also rebelled in the economic capital of Abidjan on Friday, surrounding military headquarters in the city before being driven back by loyalist forces.

Bouake was the epicentre of a mutiny in January by former rebel soldiers who had been integrated into the army.

Negotiations Saturday between the rebels and military commanders in Bouake failed to end the blockade and the rebels warned they would fight back if the army tried to intervene.

“They can send whoever they want. We’re ready,” one of several masked soldiers at one checkpoint told AFP.

The January mutiny saw the government promise to pay the renegade soldiers 12 million CFA francs (18,000 euros) each, with an initial payment of five million francs that month.

The remainder was to be paid starting this month, according to rebel sources.

Many of the soldiers participated in the 2002 uprising aimed at bolstering support for current President Alassane Ouattara.

They also backed Ouattara against Ivory Coast’s long-time leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept his defeat to Ouattara in a much-delayed 2010 presidential election.

The rebels controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast until 2011, and were later integrated into the army.

On Thursday, a soldier presented as a spokesman for some 8,400 former rebels said in a televised ceremony that they wished to apologise to President Ouattara for the mutiny and renounced the demand for huge payouts.

But this was largely viewed with scepticism in the former star French colony, which is slowly regaining its credentials as a West African powerhouse and a haven of peace and prosperity.

Ivory Coast has an army numbering around 22,000 soldiers, but falling cocoa prices have severely crimped the government’s finances.

Last year, the government unveiled an ambitious plan to modernise the military, part of which would involve the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.

-AFP

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