Gendarmes fired shots into the air inside their camps in the Ivory Coast cities of Daloa, Man and the capital Yamoussoukro on Tuesday, witnesses said, raising fears of renewed unrest just as it seemed the government had settled a mutiny in the army.
It was not immediately clear why the gendarmes were shooting, but the incidents came just hours after the government began paying bonuses to soldiers who had staged a two-day mutiny this month.
“I don’t know why they are shooting, but we ran to get home. I live next to the camp. I can see them walking around inside the camp,” Yamoussoukro resident Francoise Koffi said.
While Yamoussoukro is officially Ivory Coast’s capital, the title is mainly ceremonial and all government ministries as well as parliament are located in the main commercial city, Abidjan.
“We’re shut inside at work. We were surprised by the shooting,” said Alphonse Konan, a resident of Man, near the western border with Guinea and Liberia. “All the shops have closed up. Cars aren’t circulating.”
Ivory Coast has emerged from a 2002-2011 crisis marked by two civil wars as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies under the leadership of President Alassane Ouattara.
However, it has struggled to contain growing unrest over the past two weeks as a strike by public sector workers’ had escalated and former rebel fighters, now integrated into the army, mutinied.
Soldiers poured out of their barracks and seized the second-largest city, Bouake, on Jan. 6, and the mutiny quickly spread, forcing the government to capitulate to the mutineers’ demands. [nL5N1EW3LJ]
Negotiators for the mutineers say that, among other promises, the government agreed to pay bonuses of 12 million CFA francs ($19,500) each to about 8,400 soldiers, beginning with an installment of 5 million.
Government officials have declined to reveal details of the deal. Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi would not confirm the payments being made but said the government planned to make a statement on the issue after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
“The treasury began transferring money into bank accounts last night, but not everyone has received their money for the moment,” Seydou Camara, a soldier who negotiated on behalf of the mutineers, said.
A second mutiny leader confirmed the payments had begun.
Donwahi led a delegation to Bouake on Friday for a second round of talks after the bonuses were not paid last week as expected, leaving the soldiers poised to relaunch their revolt.