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Tensions rise over still unpaid bonuses to Ivory Coast mutineers

By Ange Aboa and Joe Bavier

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's government has yet to pay bonuses promised to soldiers to end a two-day army revolt, mutineers said on Tuesday, and confusion over how much has been agreed risked a repeat of the unrest that paralyzed the country.

Soldiers - most ex-rebels now serving in the army - seized control of Bouake, the second largest city, on Friday and troops in military camps across the country, including in the commercial capital Abidjan, then joined the mutiny.

"Our comrades want their money now," said a negotiator for the mutineers, who asked not to be identified. "People aren't happy because they haven't received their money, so everything could start up again."

Among the soldiers' primary demands are bonuses they say they were promised ahead of a 2011 U.N.- and French-backed rebel offensive that toppled then-president Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to accept Alassane Ouattara's poll victory in late 2010.

"It's 12 million CFA francs ($19,274) ... and that's what we're waiting for," said another soldier who negotiated on behalf of the mutineers during talks that ended the revolt on Saturday.

The soldier, who also asked not to be named, said under an agreement struck with Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi the government was meant to begin paying the bonuses on Monday, but no money had been released.

Paying the bonuses would likely cost Ivory Coast tens of millions of dollars that it could struggle to mobilize quickly.

Ivory Coast has stabilized since a series of wars and a near decade-long political crisis torpedoed what was once West Africa's most prosperous nation. It has since recovered to become one of the world's fastest growing economies, and remains Francophone West Africa's most important.

But years of on-off civil war and a failure to reform its army - a plethora of former rebel fighters and government soldiers some of whom once fought each other - have left it with an ill disciplined force.

Donwahi denied the government had pledged to pay the specific bonuses demanded by the soldiers and said it had instead agreed to pay what he called mission bonuses, though he declined to give details.

"The president is very clear on this ... (those bonuses) don't exist," said Donwahi, who is due to return to Bouake on Friday to meet the soldiers.

He said the mutineers own leaders had asked for the payments to be delayed, an assertion the two negotiators denied.

"There's a timetable that was made with their leaders. Their leaders know what we are doing," Donwahi told Reuters. "We were ready. They themselves told us to wait."

Ouattara dismissed the heads of the army, police and gendarmes on Monday, in a move welcomed by the mutineers.

On Tuesday, he named a new vice-president and prime minister in a move unrelated to the uprising.

(Editing by Tim Cocks and Janet Lawrence)

 

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