November 21, 2014 / 12:58 AM / 3 years ago

Ivory Coast soldiers end protests after government concessions

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Disgruntled former rebels now serving in Ivory Coast’s army have agreed to end a protest over back pay and overdue benefits, they said on Thursday, following two days of talks with government ministers and a meeting with the president.

The world’s top cocoa-producing country is still emerging from a decade of political upheaval and a 2011 civil war that saw French- and U.N.-backed rebels topple President Laurent Gbagbo after his refusal to accept an election defeat.

“You have been heard. We have solved these problems, and you know they’ve been solved because I am telling you they are solved,” President Alassane Ouattara told the soldiers at the end of negotiations on Thursday.

“From now on, you must behave like mature, model soldiers.”

The turmoil wrought by the protests, which spread across the country on Tuesday, highlighted the obstacles still facing Ivory Coast as the darling of frontier market investors attempts to forge a new national army from former rival factions.

The protesting troops were part of the New Forces rebellion that fought to bring Ouattara, who defeated Gbagbo’s in a 2010 runoff poll, to power three years ago.

They erected barricades in the commercial capital Abidjan as well as in towns including Korhogo, Odienne, and Daloa and looted the central police station in the country’s second city Bouake on Tuesday.

“We apologize,” said Navy Quartermaster Siaka Ouattara, a spokesman for a delegation that was invited to discuss its grievances with the government.

He said the delegation had accepted the concessions made by the government to pay wages and benefits that 8,400 corporals were meant to receive under the terms of a 2007 peace deal but were never given.

Those back wages will be paid over the next six months, and the government also agreed to grant promotions the soldiers said were overdue, Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko told journalists following the meetings.

He did not say how much clearing the salary arrears would cost, but a government spokesman had earlier put the figure at around 20 billion CFA francs ($38 million).

However the negotiations did not involve another group of protesting soldiers who claimed they had been promised 5 million CFA francs to join the rebellion and drive Gbagbo from power.

Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Gregorio

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