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Burkina resumes trial of left-wing idol Sankara's alleged killers

By Stephane BARBIER and Armel BAILY
Africa The killing of Sankara, an icon of pan-Africanism, has long cast a shadow over Burkina Faso.  By DOMINIQUE FAGET (AFP/File)
OCT 25, 2021 LISTEN
The killing of Sankara, an icon of pan-Africanism, has long cast a shadow over Burkina Faso. By DOMINIQUE FAGET (AFP/File)

The trial of 14 men, including the former president, accused in the assassination of Burkina Faso's left-wing leader Thomas Sankara 34 years ago, resumed at a military court in Ouagadougou on Monday.

The slaying of Sankara, a pan-Africanist icon, has for years cast a shadow over the impoverished Sahel state, fuelling its reputation for turbulence and bloodshed.

He and 12 others were riddled with bullets by a hit squad on October 15, 1987 during a putsch that brought his friend and comrade-in-arms Blaise Compaore to power.

The proceedings opened on October 11 and were adjourned at the request of the defence lawyers who wanted more time to study the 20,000 items in the dossier.

Burkina Faso.  By  (AFP) Burkina Faso. By (AFP)

Twelve of the 14 accused were in court on Monday, including general Gilbert Diendere, a senior army leader at the time of the 1987 coup.

Compaore, the chief accused, announced through his lawyers this month that he would boycott the "political trial".

He ruled for 27 years before being deposed by a popular uprising in 2014 and fleeing to neighbouring Ivory Coast.

He and his former right-hand man Diendere, who once headed the elite Presidential Security Regiment, face charges of complicity in murder, harming state security and complicity in the concealment of corpses.

Diendere, 61, is already serving a 20-year sentence for masterminding a plot in 2015 against the transitional government that followed Compaore's ouster.

General Gilbert Diendere in the courtroom.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP) General Gilbert Diendere in the courtroom. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP)

Another prominent figure among the accused is Hyacinthe Kafando, a former chief warrant officer in Compaore's presidential guard, who is accused of leading the gunmen who shot Sankara. He is on the run.

Compaore has always rejected suspicions that he orchestrated the killing.

Left-wing hero

A young army captain and Marxist-Leninist, Sankara came to power in a coup in 1983 aged just 33.

He tossed out the country's name of Upper Volta, a legacy of the French colonial era, and renamed it Burkina Faso, which means "the land of honest men".

He pushed ahead with a socialist agenda of nationalisations and banned female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages.

Burkina Faso has long been burdened by silence over the assassination and many are angry that the killers have gone unpunished.

Former president Blaise Compaore is one of 14 men accused of assassinating Sankara.  By Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP/File) Former president Blaise Compaore is one of 14 men accused of assassinating Sankara. By Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP/File)

Sankara's widow Mariam, who lives in France, came to Ouagadougou for the trial opening and tried to have the proceedings filmed, which the court rejected.

Ten days ago she published a statement again calling on the court to agree to have the proceedings on video "for history".

An association called Justice For Thomas Sankara, Justice for Africa said it feared the trial would not shed light on suspected international involvement in the turbulence of the 1980s.

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