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Mon May 29 13:19:03 SAST 2017

Gunfire in Ivory Coast barracks after rebels 'apologise' for mutiny

AFP | 2017-05-12 12:09:43.0
A mutinous soldier is seen in Bouake
A mutinous soldier is seen in Bouake, Ivory Coast January 7, 2017. File photo.
Image by: THIERRY GOUEGNON / REUTERS

Sporadic gunfire rang out overnight in a military barracks in Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake, where a mutiny erupted in January, according to a report.

An AFP journalist said Friday that the shots were heard just hours after national television broadcast a ceremony in which a soldier presented as a spokesman for 8,400 former rebels, many of them based in Bouake, said they wished to apologise to President Alassane Ouattara for the mutiny.

In January, former rebels integrated into army ranks staged a mutiny that paralysed activity in several towns of the west African country while they pressed their demands for bonuses.

In meeting the demands of the ex-rebels, who controlled the northern half of Africa's biggest cocoa producer between 2002 and 2011, the authorities provoked a fresh mutiny by other troops and paramilitary gendarmes.

Clashes claimed four lives in the political capital Yamoussoukro.

The mutineers, who demanded 12 million CFA francs (€18,000) in payments for each soldier, obtained five million francs (€7,500) in January and had been due to receive the rest of the sum this month, according to the rebels.

The government had refused to give details of the negotiations.

The AFP journalist said gunfire was heard throughout the night at the 3rd infantry battalion's Bouake barracks, and soldiers also fired in the air at the northern entrance to the city.

There was no immediate indication as to the reasons for the gunfire.

Banks and many shops were also closed in the city Friday.

Organised without the knowledge of the press, the orchestrated ceremony -- broadcast after it took place at the presidential palace -- appeared to signal a dramatic end to the protest movement.

As well as apologising the rebel spokesman, named as Sergeant Fofana, said they were giving up all their financial demands.

Ouattara said of the rebels that he "believed their words were sincere" and they would now be "exemplary soldiers".

Fofana said: "We apologise for the various situations we know we have caused. We definitively renounce all our financial demands."

In a sign of allegiance, he then saluted the president, the images showed.

Ouattara said Thursday the country was going through a "very, very difficult time" after a fall in the price of cocoa led to a net loss of 150 billion francs CFA (€230 million) to the state budget.

The mutiny had "scared Ivorians, as well as those who want to invest in and visit the country," he said.

He also announced that the government had given up plans to build new schools, a health centre and cultural centres across the country, as well as delaying until 2018 a key election promise -- bringing electricity to every village with more than 500 inhabitants.

Last year, Ivory Coast launched an ambitious plan for the modernisation of the military, including an overhaul of personnel as well as purchases of materiel worth €1.2 billion.

Part of the plan provides for the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.

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