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Gunfire heard in two Ivory Coast cities in grip of mutiny
[ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast] Gunfire was heard early Monday in the Ivory Coast cities of Abidjan and Bouake, in the grip of a mutiny by ex-rebel soldiers, AFP journalists and witnesses said.
In the economic capital of Abidjan, shots were fired at two military camps in Akouedo in the east of the city, which together form the country's largest military barracks, a nearby resident said.
Sustained gunfire was also heard in the second-largest city of Bouake, where one person died on Sunday from bullet wounds sustained in clashes between the former rebels, some of whom have now been integrated into the army, and those who have disarmed but are not integrated.
The mutineers often fire in the air to express their anger over the non-payment of bonuses.
Access roads into Akouedo were closed, preventing residents from the east of Abidjan from entering the city, an AFP reporter said.
Shots were also heard from the Gallieni camp in the centre of the city.
The armed forces chief of staff, General Sekou Toure, said in a statement Sunday that "a military operation is underway to re-establish order" and made a televised appeal to the disgruntled soldiers to return to barracks.
Former rebel soldiers mutinied in Bouake on Friday to demand the payment of bonuses.
Under a deal negotiated with the government in January, struck after the ex-rebel soldiers' first mutiny, they were to be paid bonuses of 12 million CFA francs (S$27,600) each, with an initial payment of five million francs that month.
The remainder was to be paid starting this month, according to rebel sources.
But the government has struggled to pay the soldiers the promised money, while the non-military ex-fighters are now demanding their own government payments.
Bouake was the epicentre of the January mutiny, which triggered months of unrest.
The city also served as the rebel headquarters after a failed 2002 coup which split Ivory Coast in half and led to years of unrest.
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 Alassane 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 of around 22,000, 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.