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France not ruling out pulling special forces from Burkina

France has not ruled out withdrawing its special forces in Burkina Faso, where protests against the French military presence have been increasing, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said in an interview published on Sunday.

France not ruling out pulling special forces from Burkina
Soldiers of the French Army patrol a rural area during the Barkhane operation in northern Burkina Faso, November, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron this month officially ended the Barkhane operation that has been assisting Sahel countries to fight the Islamist insurgencies. Photo by MICHELE CATTANI / AFP

“The review of our overall strategy in Africa requires us to question all aspects of our presence, including our special forces,” Lecornu told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

The Sabre unit based near Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou “has played a key role in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel”, Lecornu added.

But resentment has been growing in the former French colony after years of anti-jihadist efforts that have failed to stop insurgency attacks that killed thousands of people and forced millions of others from their homes.

On Friday, police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred demonstrators marching toward the French embassy in Ouagadougou.

French President Emmanuel Macron this month officially ended the Barkhane operation that has been assisting Sahel countries to fight the Islamist insurgencies, announcing a six-month review of France’s military strategy for the region.

Macron pulled French troops out of neighbouring Mali earlier this year as relations soured with the military rulers who ousted the elected government in a coup in 2020.

That reduced the number of French soldiers in the Sahel to around 3,000 currently, down from 5,500.

“We are working on a reorganisation of our existing military bases. They need to maintain certain capacities, to protect our citizens for example, but must also shift more toward training local armies,” Lecornu said.

“It’s no longer a question of fighting terrorism ‘in place’ of our partners, but do it with them, at their side,” he said.

READ MORE: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

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POLITICS

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 people in Channel tragedy

UK police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of playing a "key role" in the deaths of at least 27 people who drowned attempting to cross the Channel in a dinghy last November.

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 people in Channel tragedy

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said 32-year-old Harem Ahmed Abwbaker was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England.

He is suspected of being “a member of the organised crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat”.

NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy.

French prosecutors have so far charged 10 people for their alleged role in the disaster on November 24 last year.

It was the worst accident in the Channel since the narrow strait became a key route for people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.

The vessel sank after leaving the French coast, leading to the death of all but two of those aboard. Four people remain missing.

The suspect will appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings to France will commence.

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent small-boat crossings of the Channel?

Charges faced there include the French equivalent of manslaughter and facilitating illegal immigration.

“This is a significant arrest and comes as part of extensive inquiries into the events leading to these tragic deaths in the Channel,” said NCA deputy director Craig Turner.

“The individual detained today is suspected of having played a key role in the manslaughter of those who died.

“Working closely with our French partners we are determined to do all we can to get justice for the families of those whose lives were lost,” he added.

Among the 27 – aged seven to 47 – were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese.

Tributes and demonstrations took place on Thursday for the 27 victims of the tragedy that France’s interior minister admitted should have been prevented.

Several boats packed with rescuers and local elected figures took to sea off the coast of Dunkirk to mark the anniversary.

“It’s a tragedy that we were expecting and there will probably be others,” said the head of the local branch of the SNSM lifeboat service, Alain Ledaguenel.

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