Burkina Faso coup leader says ‘situation is under control’

Burkina Faso’s new military leader said the situation in the West African country was under control even as backers of his coup, some flying Russian flags, attacked French institutions in the former French colony.

Army captain Ibrahim Traoré was declared leader of the country on Friday night, replacing Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who himself ousted a democratically elected president in January. Burkina Faso has been plagued by a jihadist insurgency for several years.

Russia has sought closer ties with West African countries, which have grown disillusioned with France’s role in their affairs in recent years. Traoré’s supporters, some wrapped in the Russian flag, took to the streets and attacked the French embassy, ​​believing Damiba was hiding there while he plotted his comeback. A French cultural institute in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second largest city, was also attacked.

“We want to inform the population that the situation is under control and that order is being restored,” an army officer said in a statement read on state television.

Damiba agreed to officially step down on Sunday on seven conditions, including a guarantee of his safety and a timetable for transitioning to civilian rule within two years, according to a statement from community leaders reported by AFP.

He previously denied taking refuge in the French embassy and “urged Captain Traoré and his companions to come to their senses to avoid a civil war, which Burkina Faso does not need.” The French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou also denied connections to Damiba.

French officials condemned the “acts of violence” committed against their diplomatic outposts.

Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba pictured in March 2022
Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, pictured in March, urged “Captain Traoré and his companions to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso does not need” © Olympia de Maismont/AFP/Getty Images

International and regional bodies condemned the coup. The African Union issued a statement expressing “deep concern” about the takeover and urging Burkina Faso’s leaders to stand by an agreement reached in July for a democratic transition by July 2024 at the latest.

Damiba came to power in January thanks to the support of the people of Burkina Faso’s 21 million people when he ousted democratically elected President Roch Kaboré. He had vowed to defeat the al-Qaeda and Isis-affiliated groups that had ravaged much of the country amid growing frustration from citizens and soldiers.

But Damiba couldn’t get a foothold against the terrorists as violence increased and the terrorists gained more and more ground. Analysts have said terrorist groups are active in 10 of the country’s 13 regions. An attack on a convoy last week that left 11 soldiers dead and many civilians missing and presumed dead hastened the latest coup after months of tensions in the military.

Groups linked to al Qaeda and Isis have wreaked havoc in the Sahel since 2012, an arid region that includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and many other countries in North and West Africa.

Violence and governments’ inability to win decisive victories against perpetrators have made coups attractive to crisis-weary populace. In the past two years, coups have taken place in Guinea, Chad and twice in Mali, where a group of officers first deposed an elected president before overthrowing the interim government that replaced him.

Some former French colonies in the region have clashed with Paris as they forged closer ties with Moscow. The coups in Mali have led to a breakdown in relations between the West African state and its former colonial power France. France has withdrawn its Operation Barkhane peacekeeping troops and Niger has halted fuel supplies to Mali.

The Russian Wagner Group, a private military company known for operating in trouble spots like Syria and the war in Ukraine and founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was deployed to to support the Malian armed forces. They are accused of human rights violations in Mali and the Central African Republic.

Eric Humphery-Smith, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy, said deploying Russian mercenaries, as in neighboring Mali, would not solve the crisis.

“If Burkina goes [in] In the same vein, there is little reason to be optimistic about improving the security and human rights situation,” he added.

https://www.ft.com/content/d35cd5e7-9e62-4d39-9407-b4e34dcb6da7 Burkina Faso coup leader says ‘situation is under control’

Adam Bradshaw

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