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Burkina Faso wants French troops out: state news agency

Burkina Faso's military regime told France it wants its troops stationed in the country to leave within a month, the state news agency AIB reported on Saturday.

Burkina Faso wants French troops out: state news agency
Burkina Faso's leader Captain Ibrahim Traore in October 2022. Photo: Olympia DE MAISMONT/AFP

“The Burkinabe government last Wednesday denounced the accord which has governed, since 2018, the presence of French armed forces on its territory,” AIB said, adding that authorities had given France a month to complete its pull-out.

A source close to the government clarified it was “not the severance of relations with France. The notification only concerns military cooperation agreements”.

France has 400 special forces soldiers stationed in junta-ruled Burkina to battle an Islamist insurgency, but relations have deteriorated in recent months.

Sources familiar with the matter told AFP that France’s preferred option would be to redeploy its forces in the south of neighbouring Niger, where nearly 2,000 French soldiers are already stationed.

The military junta, led by Captain Ibrahim Traore, seized power last September in the second coup in the former French colony in eight months.

Traore’s regime has been seeking to rekindle ties with Russia since his coup.

French troops withdrew from Mali last year after a 2020 coup in the former French colony saw its rulers also inch closer to Russia.

Demonstrations

Demonstrators gathered in Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou on Friday to demand the French ambassador leave the country and that the French military base there be closed.

Several hundred flocked to a central square carrying placards with slogans such as “French army, get out”.

Mohamed Sinon, one of the main leaders of the collective that called the demonstration, said it was to show support for junta leader Traore and the security forces fighting jihadists.

“We are a pan-African movement and we want cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia, but also the strengthening of friendship and of cooperation with Guinea and Mali,” he added.

Protesters carried huge posters showing the presidents of Mali and Guinea — both of whom also came to power in coups — as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In October, anti-France demonstrators gathered outside the country’s embassy in Ouagadougou and the French cultural centre was attacked.

Another demonstration outside the embassy followed in November, and earlier this month, the French foreign ministry said the junta had asked it to replace ambassador Luc Hallade after he ruffled feathers with reports on Burkina’s worsening security situation.

‘Brother country’ Mali

Burkina Faso on Saturday thanked its northern neighbour Mali for its help in the recent rescue of 66 women, children and babies from suspected jihadists after a week of captivity.

Government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo also told RTB state television that all of the 66 freed captives, who included 27 minors and four babies, were doing well.

“All arrangements have been made for them to regain serenity and after all that, we can consider their return to their respective families,” he added.

The captives were abducted by suspected jihadists in the northern Sahel region a little over a week ago.

During his televised interview, Ouedraogo paid tribute to “brother country” Mali, saying it had monitored their shared border “so as to be able to follow the trail of the kidnappers and the women”.

Both countries are fighting a long-running jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced millions to flee their homes.

Earlier Saturday, several hundred people demonstrated in two major northern towns, Djibo and Kongoussi, both of which have been subjected to jihadist raids and a blockade that has made it increasingly difficult for them to receive supplies.

The demonstrators called for fresh supplies and thanked security forces for rescuing the women.

The demonstrations came just two days after a series of attacks across the north of the country claimed the lives of around 30 people, half of whom were members of an auxiliary force supporting the army.

Traore said in December that his aim was to “recapture the territory occupied by the hordes of terrorists”.

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POLITICS

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Burkina Faso's junta leader said on Friday his country had not severed diplomatic ties with France, which he has asked to withdraw its forces, and denied Russian Wagner mercenaries were in the country.

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Former colonial power France had special forces based in the capital Ouagadougou, but its presence had come under intense scrutiny as anti-French sentiment in the region grows, with Paris withdrawing its ambassador to Burkina over the junta’s demands.

“The end of diplomatic agreements, no!” Captain Ibrahim Traore said in a television interview with Burkinabe journalists. “There is no break in diplomatic relations or hatred against a particular state.”

Traore went on to deny that there were mercenaries from the Wagner Group deployed in Burkina Faso, even as the junta has nurtured ties with Moscow.

Wagner, an infamous Russian mercenary group founded in 2014, has been involved in conflicts in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“We’ve heard everywhere that Wagner is in Ouagadougou,” he said, adding that it was a rumour “created so that everybody would distance themselves from us”.

“We have our Wagner, it is the VDP that we recruit,” he said, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland civilian auxiliaries. “They are our Wagner.”

He said that “all the people want is their sovereignty, to live with dignity. It doesn’t mean leaving one country for another.”

Paris confirmed last month that its special forces troops, deployed to help fight a years-long jihadist insurgency, would leave within a month.

Bloody conflict

A landlocked country in the heart of West Africa’s Sahel, Burkina Faso is one of the world’s most volatile and impoverished countries.

It has been struggling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed, more than two million people have fled their homes, and around 40 percent of the country lies outside the government’s control.

Anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups in 2022, the most recent of which was in September, when 34-year-old Traore seized power.

He is standing by a pledge made by the preceding junta to stage elections for a civilian government by 2024.

After the ruling junta in Mali forced French troops out last year, the army officers running neighbouring Burkina Faso followed suit, asking Paris to empty its garrison.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France was already drawing down its troops across the Sahel region, which just a few years ago numbered more than 5,000, backed up with fighter jets, helicopters and infantry fighting vehicles.

About 3,000 remain, but the forced departures from Mali and Burkina Faso — as well as the Central African Republic to the south last year — underline how anti-French winds are gathering force.

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