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Burkina Mourns 79 Dead In Jihadist Massacre

By Armel BAILY
Burkina Faso Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba named securityhis key priority, but deadly attacks have resumed.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFPFile
JUN 14, 2022 LISTEN
Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba named security his key priority, but deadly attacks have resumed. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP/File)

Burkina Faso on Tuesday began three days of mourning after 79 people died in one of the bloodiest massacres in a nearly seven-year-old insurgency by armed Islamists.

The government issued a new toll from the weekend attack at the village of Seytenga in northern Burkina, revising it sharply upwards from the earlier figure of at least 50 dead.

The head of the country's ruling junta, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo, decreed three days of mourning, which took effect at midnight on Monday.

In a statement, the government said 29 more bodies had been found, bringing the provisional death toll to 79.

The search for still more victims is being hampered by fear of booby-trapped devices planted "by terrorists to mine the site", it said.

"The terrorists came into the town on Saturday, market day," a survivor told AFP by phone.

"They opened fire as soon as they entered," which was at around four pm or five pm, he said.

Nearly two million people have been displaced by the clashes in Burkina.  By Sia KAMBOU AFPFile Nearly two million people have been displaced by the clashes in Burkina. By Sia KAMBOU (AFP/File)

"They only aimed at men. They went from shop to shop, sometimes torching it. They opened fire on anyone who tried to run away. They stayed in the town all night," said the man, who had fled to Dori, the nearest large town.

"As soon as the shooting broke out on Saturday evening, I fled into the bush with my family," said another survivor.

"We stayed there all night before reaching Dori on Sunday morning. We didn't take anything and we learned that they set fire to homes, so we have lost everything."

Condemning the attack, the European Union estimated the final toll could reach some 100 civilians.

Bloodshed

The massacre is the second worst in the history of Burkina's insurgency, which started in 2015 when jihadists launched cross-border raids from Mali.

Attacks mainly by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have since claimed thousands of lives, while nearly two million have fled their homes.

Map of Burkina Faso locating village of Seytenga.  By  AFP Map of Burkina Faso locating village of Seytenga. By (AFP)

The toll at Seytenga is surpassed only by an attack at Solhan in the northeast of the country last June that left 132 dead, according to an official toll. Local sources say 160 died.

The Soltan attack -- and a raid at Inata that killed 57 gendarmes five months later -- were key factors behind a military coup in January.

Disgruntled colonels ousted elected civilian president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, battling a wave of unpopularity for his handling of the insurgency.

The new strongman, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, named security his key priority.

But after a lull, attacks have resumed. Several hundred civilians and members of the security forces have died in the past three months.

'Miracle' needed

The latest massacre sparked grief and hand-wringing but also calls for stronger commitment in the fight against the jihadists and an appeal for civilians to be armed.

"Where is Burkina going?" the privately-owned daily Le Pays asked in an editorial, deploring the "unparalleled barbarism" of the attack.

"We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe in Burkina Faso. Our generation is awaiting a miracle," said Yeli Monique Kam, a presidential candidate in 2020.

Attacks mainly by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have claimed thousands of lives in Burkina Faso.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFP Attacks mainly by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have claimed thousands of lives in Burkina Faso. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP)

Arouna Loure, a doctor in the transitional legislative assembly, suggested it was "time to formally arm the public, especially those living in areas facing major security challenges.

"It is better to die defending one's lands, weapon in hand, than to be a victim of this barbarism in absolute impotence," said Loure.

Seytenga had been struck on June 9 in an attack that claimed the lives of 11 gendarmerie police officers.

The army then announced that it had killed around 40 jihadists following that raid.

The massacre was "retaliation for the actions of the army which caused bloodshed" within jihadist ranks, government spokesman Lionel Bilgo said on Monday.

In early April, community leaders and fighters from local armed groups began talks with the government's backing, mainly in the north and east of the country.

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