Heavy gunfire heard at military camps in Ivory Coast

Heavy gunfire was heard on Saturday near military camps in two cities in Ivory Coast, where disgruntled soldiers launched revolts a day earlier over salaries and bonuses, residents and a soldier said.

Shooting began at around 6 a.m. (0600 GMT) in Bouake, the West African nation’s second-largest city of around half a million inhabitants.

Residents also reported hearing shooting throughout the night at an army base in the northern city of Korhogo.

“The shooting is very heavy right now at the 3rd Battalion.

“I am nearby and I heard it like it was right next to us,’’ Bouake resident, Konan Benoit told newsmen by telephone as gunfire could be heard on the line.

Zie Silue, who lives in Korhogo, said the gunfire there had stopped by the early morning.

“It is calm now, but residents are being careful, there is practically no traffic, although shops are closed,’’ he said.

Ivory Coast – French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy – has emerged from 2002 to 2011 a political crisis as one of the continent’s rising economic stars.

However, the years of conflict and failure to reform its army, has thrown together from a mixture of former rebel fighters and government soldiers, have left it with an unruly force hobbled by internal divisions.

Renegade soldiers seized Bouake on Friday after taking up positions at key entry points, beginning a standoff with troop reinforcements sent there after word of the revolt reached the army headquarters in Abidjan.

It was not immediately clear what provoked the gunfire in the two cities, but a member of the uprising said soldiers in Bouake had seen what they considered suspicious movements outside the camp.

“This is gunfire by the renegades to discourage them, while the shooting later died down, intermittent bursts of gunfire continued,’’ he said.

Report says New Forces rebellion had used Bouake as its de facto capital and controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast from 2002 until the country was reunited following a 2011 civil war.

Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi in a statement has called for calm and said the government was prepared to listen to the soldiers’ grievances after the uprising spread to other cities including Daloa, Daoukro and Odienne.

“I calling the revolt understandable but deplorable for the image of the country,’’ he said, adding that he would travel to Bouake to speak directly with the mutineers.

Bema Fofana, a parliament member representing Bouake, said the soldiers had agreed in a meeting on Friday to return to barracks from 6 a.m. on Saturday.

However a local journalist in Bouake said that, hours later, the situation on the streets had not changed.

“They are maintaining their positions. They are still at the entrances to the city and at the central roundabout,’’ the journalist said, asking that his name not be used due to fear of reprisal. (Reuters/NAN)

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