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Rebel military forces reach agreement with Ivory Coast government after flaring up tensions

Soldiers had cut off access to several cities in Ivory Coast to push through their demands in negotiation with the government. Gunshots were heard in several parts of the country, raising alarm about a return to unrest.

Ivory Coast fell back into crisis after mutinying soldiers sealed off the country's second-largest city, Bouake. This came as senior government and rebel military officials inside the city continued to work on bringing peace back to the West African nation, which was rocked by a major army revolt at the beginning of January. A final deal may now have been reached according to one of the mutineer negotiators; however, pressure from mutiny soldiers may likely have contributed to speeding up the process.

A soldier loyal to the mutiny group said the main access roads leading to Bouake had been seized and would remain under rebel military control until an agreement to end the political crisis between the government and the rebel military members was reached. The Associated Press news agency reported that hundreds of soldiers had converged on the home of a local official in Bouake, where the negotiations were taking place. They were reportedly seen firing their weapons into the air near the residence while the government delegation led by Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi was meeting with representatives of the rebel soldiers who had started the revolt last week.

Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that soldiers had also seized access roads leading into the city of Korhogo in the north of the country. The developments put pressure on the government, hinting at a relaunch of last week's military mutiny if their demands were not met.

Shooting was reportedly also heard late on Friday from inside the main military camp in the country's economic hub, Abidjan, coinciding with the disruption to the talks in Bouake, raising fears that Africa's fastest-growing economy could fall into a permanent state of unrest.

"There were shots, bursts of gunfire coming from the barracks. It stopped and started again," Mathilde Kouadio, a teacher living nearby the barracks at Abidjan's Cocody district, told Agence France Presse.

Deal or no deal?

With military activity flaring up simultaneously in several cities, many feared a return to chaos - including government officials. President Alassane Ouattara had announced that a deal had been already reached between the government and the military on January 7, meeting at least some of the soldiers' demands, which include higher pay, faster promotions and improved living conditions, in addition to making good on unpaid bonuses.

It was unclear, however, whether all soldiers had agreed to the deal and which of the demands the agreement may have failed to address, as details were withheld from the public. A soldier who chose to remain anonymous told The Associated Press that a key sticking point was unpaid bonuses to the tune of $20,000 (19,000 euros) in many cases.

ss/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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