Ivory Coast rebel soldiers apologise to president Ouattara

web_photo_Ivory_Coast_combat_unit _12052017

Soldiers of an Ivory Coast combat unit heading to Mali stand to attention during a ceremony in Abidjan ahead of their departure on May 3, 2017. I

Soldiers of an Ivory Coast combat unit heading to Mali stand to attention during a ceremony in Abidjan ahead of their departure on May 3, 2017. I

ABIDJAN - Some 8,400 Ivory Coast soldiers who mutinied in January apologised to President Alassane Ouattara in an orchestrated ceremony that was aired on national television late on Thursday.

Organised without the knowledge of the press, the event -- broadcast after it took place at the presidential palace -- signalled a dramatic end to the protest movement.

The rebels also said they were giving up all their financial demands.

Ouattara said of the rebels that he "believed their words were sincere" and they would now be "exemplary soldiers".

A spokesman for the rebels, named as Sergeant Fofana, said: "We apologise for the various situations we know we have caused. We definitively renounce all our financial demands."

He then, in a sign of allegiance, saluted the president, the images showed.

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At the start of January, former rebels integrated into army ranks staged a mutiny that paralysed activity in several towns of the west African country while they pressed for bonuses.

In meeting the demands of the ex-rebels, who controlled the northern half of Africa's biggest cocoa producer between 2002 and 2011, the authorities provoked a fresh mutiny by other troops and paramilitary gendarmes.

Clashes claimed four lives in the political capital, Yamoussoukro.

The mutineers, who demanded 12-million CFA francs (R261,000) in payments for each soldier, obtained 5-million francs in January and had been due to receive the rest of the sum this month, the rebels had told AFP.

The government had refused to give details of the negotiations.

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Ouattara said on Thursday the country was going through a "very, very difficult time" after a fall in the price of cocoa had led to "a net loss of 150-billion CFA (R3.3-billion)" to the state budget.

The mutiny had "scared Ivorians, as well as those who want to invest in and visit the country", he said.

He also announced that the government had given up plans to build new schools, a health centre and cultural centres across the country, as well as the delay to 2018 of a key election promise -- bringing electricity to every village with more than 500 inhabitants.

Last year, Ivory Coast launched an ambitious plan for the modernisation of the military, including an overhaul of personnel as well as purchases of material worth 1.2-billion euros.

Part of the plan provides for the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.