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Burkina soldiers mutiny over anti-jihadist strategy

By Armel Baily
Africa Under pressure: President Roch Marc Kabore.  By Ludovic MARIN AFP
JAN 23, 2022 LISTEN
Under pressure: President Roch Marc Kabore. By Ludovic MARIN AFP

Soldiers in Burkina Faso staged mutinies at several barracks to demand the sacking of the country's military top brass and allocation of more resources to a seven-year battle against Islamist insurgents.

Gunfire was reported Sunday morning at several army bases, prompting fears of yet another coup in a volatile west African country prone to military takeovers.

Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting over the government's handling of the jihadist threat set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party.

But the government quickly denied rumours of a putsch and a list of demands presented by the rebellious troops made no mention of trying to oust President Roch Christian Kabore, while emphasizing the need for a better anti-jihadist strategy.

"We want adequate resources for the battle" against Islamist extremists, a soldier from the Sangoule Lamizana base in Ouagadougou, one of those involved in the revolt, said in a voice recording received by AFP.

The disaffected soldiers also wanted top generals to be "replaced", better care for injured troops and more support for the families of soldiers killed in battle, the spokesman for the mutinous troops added in the anonymous recording.

The unrest comes a little over a week after 12 people, including a senior army officer, were arrested on suspicion of planning to "destabilise" Burkina's institutions.

It also comes a day after police used tear gas to disperse banned rallies, arresting dozens.

'Localised, limited' incidents

Residents in the Gounghin district, where the Sangoule Lamizana base is situated, reporting seeing soldiers firing in the air and sealing off the area around the barracks.

Commuters on Sunday in Ouagadougou, where gunfire was heard at several military barracks.  By Olympia DE MAISMONT AFP Commuters on Sunday in Ouagadougou, where gunfire was heard at several military barracks. By Olympia DE MAISMONT AFP

Shots were also heard at the Baby Sy barracks in the south of the capital, as well as at an air base near the airport, which was also surrounded by soldiers in balaclavas, witnesses said.

There was also gunfire at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya, residents there told AFP, and mobile internet services were cut.

The government moved quickly to try to restore control.

"Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover," government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement.

"The government, while acknowledging that there was gunfire in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the public to remain calm."

Defence Minister General Barthelemy Simpore said on nationwide TV that "none of the Republic's institutions has been troubled" by the revolt.

He added that there were "localised, limited" incidents "in a few barracks," and that he was investigating.

Police fired tear gas to break up a rally by around 100 people who gathered at a square in central Ouagadougou to show support for the soldiers' revolt, an AFP correspondent reported.

History of coups

Sangoule Lamizana camp houses a military prison where General Gilbert Diendere -- a former right-hand man to deposed president Blaise Compaore -- is serving a 20-year term for an attempted coup in 2015.

Accused: Diendere at the start of the trial last October into the assassination of revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFP Accused: Diendere at the start of the trial last October into the assassination of revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFP

He is also on trial for his alleged part in the 1987 assassination of the country's revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, during a putsch that brought Compaore to power.

Compaore, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014, fled to Ivory Coast, and is being tried in absentia for the assassination.

Anger at jihadist toll

Burkina Faso.  By  AFP Burkina Faso. By AFP

The latest turbulence coincides with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015, overwhelming Burkina's poorly-trained and badly-equipped armed forces.

Around 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while around 1.5 million people are internally displaced, according to the national emergency agency CONASUR.

Anger at Kabore's failure to stem the bloodshed has risen, spilling over into clashes with the security forces.

On November 27, dozens were wounded when hundreds turned out to protest.

Among the soldiers arrested this month over the plot to "destabilise institutions" was Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana, who had been commanding anti-jihadist operations in country's badly hit western region.

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