Former rebels now serving in Ivory Coast’s army have set up barricades and blocked streets outside barracks across the West African nation in protests over unpaid benefits and bonuses, military and diplomatic sources say.
Demonstrations broke out on Tuesday at about a half dozen military bases in the commercial capital Abidjan and the second city of Bouake as well as in the towns of Korhogo, Bondoukou and Daloa, a hub of the country’s cocoa industry.
Some of the demonstrating soldiers were demanding promotions and payment of a five million CFA franc ($9,557) bonus they say each was promised three years ago while fighting for the rebels supporting current President Alassane Ouattara.
Others said they have been shortchanged on benefits.
Residents in Korhogo and Daloa reported hearing bursts of gunfire. Cocoa buyers in Daloa said warehouses closed about midday due to the unrest.
“The soldiers are on the streets,” said a Reuters news agency witness near an army base in the northern Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo.
Some soldiers entered state television and radio headquarters in Bouake but failed to broadcast a statement after staff fled, a journalist and security guard said.
Witnesses said the soldiers wanted to broadcast a message rejecting the defence minister’s pledge to meet some of their demands.
Speaking on state television earlier, Paul Koffi Koffi, the defence minister, had urged the protesters to return to the barracks.
He said the government had agreed to pay overdue travel stipends and housing allowances and to set aside money for soldiers’ health care.
Koffi also said he would meet a delegation of soldiers to look for “a definitive solution” to the demands for back wages.
Ivory Coast, the world’s number one cocoa producer, is still recovering from a decade of political turmoil and a 2011 civil war that saw French- and UN-backed rebels topple President Laurent Gbagbo after his refusal to accept defeat in elections.
About 3,000 people were killed in the conflict between the two sides.
Ouattara, who defeated Gbagbo him in a run-off vote in 2010, has overseen a rapid revival of French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy. However, rights groups have criticised him for not doing enough to heal deep political and ethnic divisions.
Gbagbo is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, charged with crimes against humanity.