BOUAKE, Ivory Coast
Mutinous soldiers released Ivory Coast’s Defense Minister Alain Richard Donwahi late Jan. 7 after detaining him for two hours in a tense standoff over pay.
Donwahi, who flew into the west African country’s second city Bouake earlier in the day in a bid to defuse an escalating crisis, was whisked out on a plane from the local airport shortly after his release, an AFP photographer said.
President Alassane Ouattara had announced a deal to end the dispute on Jan. 7 evening following talks between Donwahi and the soldiers, who took control of Bouake early on Jan. 6.
But angry troops rejected the terms of the agreement, firing Kalashnikov rifles and heavy weapons outside local government offices where they were meeting to block Donwahi and his team from leaving.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been rocked by two days of unrest after soldiers seized control of Bouake’s streets early Jan. 6, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents, in a mutiny that spread to other cities including the economic capital Abidjan.
The soldiers are seeking bonuses, pay rises, housing and faster promotion.
Bouake was the headquarters of an armed rebellion that broke out in 2002 and split Ivory Coast in two until 2011, sparking a decade of clashes and crises.
The current mutiny appears to have been spearheaded by former rebel fighters who have now been integrated into the army.
Shortly after Donwahi’s release, troops lifted the barricades that had blocked entry to Bouake since Jan. 6, and the automatic rifle fire that had rattled all through the previous night and into Jan. 7 fell silent.
Neither Donwahi nor the mutineers made any comment as the minister was released. Donwahi and his aides headed straight to the airport and their plane took off immediately, an AFP photographer said.
Ouattara had given no details of the deal offered to the mutineers, saying in a brief televised announcement earlier that it took into account “the demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers.”
“Having given my agreement, I ask all soldiers to go back to their barracks to allow decisions to be carried out calmly,” he added.