Discontented soldiers demanding salary increases and the payment of bonuses seized control of Ivory Coast’s second-largest city, Bouake, on Friday, according to the defense minister.
Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi said in a statement that a group of soldiers had used their weapons to force their way into the military headquarters in Bouake soon after midnight and then made their demands.
All soldiers are asked to remain calm and return to barracks so that lasting solutions can be found, it said.
Heavy gunfire was heard from around 2 a.m. (0200 GMT) in Bouake and sporadic shooting continued into the late morning.
Ivory Coast has emerged from a 9-year (2002-2011) political crisis as one of the continent’s rising economies and the largest economy in French-speaking West Africa.
The country’s army formed at the end of the conflict from a mixture of former rebel factions and government remains an unruly force riddled with internal divisions.
Bouake was the seat of a rebellion that controlled the northern half of the country from 2002 until Ivory Coast was reunited following a civil war in 2011.
Shooting also broke out mid-morning at a military base in Daloa, the main trading hub in the western cocoa belt, and residents said soldiers, some of them masked, were patrolling the streets.
Cocoa prices rose as the unrest prompted a wave of buying.
Military sources had said demobilized combatants were behind the uprising, but authorities and a lawmaker later blamed soldiers on active duty.
None of them are demobilized fighters, said Bemba Fofana, a member of parliament representing Bouake who spoke to several of the soldiers. There are fewer than 200 of them that I saw.
Fofana said the soldiers had said they were demanding 5 million CFA francs ($8,000) each, as well as a house.
The soldiers set up positions at entry points into the city and blocked at least one road.
An army officer who was not part of the mutiny said there were many rebel soldiers at the north and south entrances to the city. We are on alert and await instructions from the hierarchy, he said by telephone from Bouake.
He added that the mutineers had taken the second in command at Bouake’s main military base hostage.
Residents stayed home and businesses remained closed.
An officer at Ivory Coast’s military headquarters in the commercial capital Abidjan said reinforcements had been sent, adding: The situation remains unstable and serious in Bouake.
A similar uprising occurred in 2014, when hundreds of soldiers barricaded roads in several cities and towns across the country demanding payment of back wages.
The government agreed a financial settlement with the soldiers, who returned to barracks, possibly emboldened to try their luck again later.
Source: Voice of Nigeria