Ivory Coast President Says Government Reaches Deal With Soldiers to End Uprising

United Nations peacekeepers in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, on Friday, where a military revolt appeared to have surprised the government. Negotiations were said to have avoided a protracted standoff. Credit Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Negotiations on Saturday appeared to have averted a protracted standoff between soldiers and the government in a military revolt in Ivory Coast, a country that has prided itself on political and economic stability in recent years.

President Alassane Ouattara said late in the day that the government had reached an agreement with disgruntled soldiers who had demanded higher salaries and better living conditions. But Mr. Ouattara criticized the soldiers for the way they had protested.

“I want to say that this way of making demands is not appropriate,” Mr. Ouattara said. “In fact, it tarnished the image of our country after all our economic development efforts.”

According to witnesses, gunfire erupted early on Saturday at a military camp known as “old Akouedo” in a residential area of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city and its economic capital.

Rebellious soldiers from one battalion in the city erected barricades. Citizens in several cities reported that soldiers were patrolling the streets, some firing shots in the air. In Toulepleu, soldiers seized vehicles from citizens, said Serzh Kouehi, a resident there. Shots rang out throughout Friday in the cities of Korhogo and Bouaké. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

“People are afraid because the soldiers all have weapons,” said Estelle Koussi, a resident of Man, a city in western Ivory Coast, where the revolt also spread.

Early on Saturday, Alain Richard Donwahi, the country’s defense minister, arrived in Bouaké, where the uprising appeared to have started, for talks with the rebellious soldiers, whose demands included raises, bonuses and shorter tenures of service.

After the deal was announced, local news media reports from Bouaké said renegade soldiers were preventing Mr. Donwahi from leaving the city. But Mayor Nicolas Djibo of Bouaké said late Saturday that the soldiers had never threatened Mr. Donwahi, and that the minister had traveled to the local airport after the talks.

The mutiny seemed to have taken Ivorian officials by surprise. Mr. Ouattara was in Ghana on Saturday for the inauguration of a new president there, but he returned to his country for an emergency meeting with his ministers. Mr. Djibo was away from Bouaké on Friday and rushed home after the mutiny began.

Mamadou Koulibaly, an opposition party leader, criticized the government for not addressing the soldiers’ complaints sooner.

“What is this form of governance?” he wrote on Twitter. “Why wait for grievances to be made before addressing these problems if they are legitimate?”

The Ivorian military has remained fractured as the government has struggled to integrate the rebels who helped install Mr. Ouattara in 2011 after his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept an electoral defeat.

“The Ivorian Army for a long time now has been very volatile,” said Rinaldo Depagne, the West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. He said there was a huge gap in compensation between top- and lower-level officers.

A similar revolt occurred in November 2014, when thousands of Ivory Coast soldiers left their barracks to demand back pay and benefits. At the time, the government agreed to meet the demands of the former rebel fighters, but those grievances have lingered.

“The conditions in which these guys live are appalling,” said Mr. Depagne, who visited military barracks around the time of the 2014 mutiny. “It doesn’t match with the wealth of the country.”

Julien Kouaho, an author who has written about Ivorian politics, said the rebellion needed to be resolved quickly or the nation’s economy and political system would suffer. “The government must take this seriously,” he said. “The military is not made to be in the streets, but in the barracks.”

The actions of the rebels could have far-reaching consequences, Mr. Kouaho added.

“This is not a situation that can reassure investors,” he said. “The population is terrified. It can be traumatized by these repeated crises and won’t trust the rulers.”

Source: NYTimes