16 May 2017

West Africa: Regional Leaders Worry About Violence From Cote d'Ivoire Army Mutiny Spilling Over

West African leaders are concerned that violence from an army mutiny in Cote d'Ivoire could spread into the sub region, Liberia's information minister told RFI on Tuesday. The mutiny by disgruntled Ivorian soldiers is the latest in a series of armed protests over a wage dispute with President Alassane Ouattara's government.

"The president of Liberia is calling on the mutineers to engage the government in a dialogue," said Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, referring to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's role as chair of the Ecowas regional bloc.

Sirleaf has held consultations with other heads of state, according to Nagbe, and she is calling on the army mutineers to return to negotiations with the Ivorian government.

Heavy gunfire was heard in Cote d'Ivoire's two biggest cities on Monday, the AFP news agency reported. Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi said the authorities had reached a deal with the disgruntled soldiers, however the mutineers denied that such an agreement had been made.

"We are very concerned, particularly given the recent history with Liberia, La Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone where we have had violence in the recent past," said Nagbe in a telephone interview, when asked about the possibility of violence spilling over the border.

Liberia had not yet "taken any particular action" with regards to border security, the Liberian information minister said, pointing out that the country maintains cooperation with Cote d'Ivoire on military matters.

Many businesses were closed in the economic capital Abidjan and border posts controlled by the mutinous soldiers were shut, halting traffic to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to AFP.

Liberia's president wants the soldiers to stop blocking roads and disrupting daily life, said Nagbe. "We are doing everything possible to encourage the Ivorians to settle this matter in a very peaceful and amicable manner," he added.

The West African regional bloc is ready to step in and get involved in mediation if necessary, according to the Liberian information minister. It has not yet been decided whether talks led by external parties are necessary, but "Ecowas will continue to engage all of the parties", said Nagbe.

Shots were fired in the port city of San Pedro and in the east of Abidjan on Monday, AFP said. The soldiers are demanding a bonus that they say was agreed by President Ouattara.

The 8,000 soldiers were part of the rebel force that helped bring Ouattara to power in 2011 following months of election-related violence. Many of the rebels then joined the country's regular army which contains some 22,000 soldiers.

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