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Confusion in Burkina Faso after the mutiny of soldiers in several barracks

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Confusion in Burkina Faso after the mutiny of soldiers in several barracks

The night was short in Ouagadougou, punctuated by the comings and goings of helicopters and gunshots, some with heavy weapons, heard in several places in the Burkinabe capital. Monday morning, January 24, the situation was still confused: rumors of a coup d’etat circulated after the mutiny of certain soldiers on Sunday, against a background of anger at the authorities’ inability to stem the violence in a country where terrorist attacks left more than 2,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced in six years. According to security sources cited by Agence France presse, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was arrested by mutinous soldiers.

The first shots broke out in the night from Saturday to Sunday at the Sangoulé Lamizana military camp, in Gounghin, on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. Hamidou (first name changed at his request), a first class soldier, was sleeping when he heard « shots around 4 a.m. », within the camp grounds. « A boss called me to tell me to get out, that a coup was in progress », says the 25-year-old young man in khaki fatigues, his face camouflaged by a black balaclava.

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Sunday morning, several dozen soldiers, Kalashnikovs in hand, came out of their barracks, firing in the air, and blocked access to the Sangoulé-Lamizana camp. Heavy gunfire was also heard at the General-Baba-Sy camp and at the Ouagadougou air base, as well as at a barracks in the town of Kaya, in north-central Burkina Faso.

In a press release published in the morning, the government, which confirmed these shootings, however denied “a takeover by the army” and ensured that the institutions were not threatened  » for the moment « . A curfew has been imposed from 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.  » until further notice «  throughout the territory. All schools in the country are also closed until Tuesday, January 25 « to preserve the safety of students and teachers ».

Support for mutineers

At this stage, the demands of the mutinous soldiers have not been officially communicated. But, in the group of soldiers posted near the Sangoulé-Lamizana camp, several claim to have come out to express their anger at the « incapacity » of the Head of State to overcome the increasingly deadly terrorist attacks of recent months. « We can’t take it anymore, the president can no longer hold the country, our comrades are dying every day at the front », castigates Hamidou, who woke up at dawn to support the « movement of mood ». “We gave him several chances, but now it’s too late, we demand the departure of the president! », says the latter, cheered by a group of young people from the neighborhood in front of the barracks.

On Sunday, a hundred demonstrators gathered at the entrance to the Sangoulé-Lamizana camp to express their support for the mutineers. Concert of vuvuzelas, horns and cries of joy. “The military in power! », shouted some, brandishing small red and green flags, colors of Burkina. “We want a transition regime like in Mali and the departure of France from the Sahel”, explains a 31-year-old trader, in front of the West interchange, where young people had erected barricades of stones and burnt tires.

Groups of people also tried to reach the Place de la Nation, in the heart of the capital, before being dispersed by tear gas fire from the riot police and the gendarmerie. At least one protester was injured by a stray bullet. Later in the day, supporters of the mutinous soldiers set fire to the ground floor of the headquarters of the ruling party, the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP), in Ouagadougou. During the day, several journalists were attacked by demonstrators and mutinous soldiers. Two international press correspondents were arrested by soldiers in front of the Sangoulé-Lamizana camp, their motorcycles and cameras confiscated, before being released thirty minutes later.

Attempts at negotiations

On Sunday night, sporadic gunfire was heard in several camps in the capital. Shots also rang out near the home of President Kaboré, in the Patte-d’Oie district. After blocking access to Facebook, the mobile Internet connection was suspended during the day, without any details from the authorities.

On national television, in a special edition broadcast at 9 a.m., the Minister for the Armed Forces assured « monitor the situation » and promised to communicate  » in right time « . « We don’t know more about the motivations for these shots or the claims, we are following up to get in touch with those who are on the job », declared General Aimé Barthélémy Simporé, while denying « formally » the arrest of the Head of State and asking the population to stay « serene ».

According to our information, negotiations were attempted between the mutineers and the authorities. In an audio recording transmitted to the World, one of the leaders of the mutiny, who did not want to be named, lists six demands, including  » replacing «  the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the Army and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, « resources adapted to the fight and substantial staff », a « upgrading » strengths and “permanent formed units” in the field.

Concern of Western chancelleries

Mutiny or coup? On social networks, rumors and speculation multiplied. Some have mentioned an attempt to free General Gilbert Diendéré, sentenced to twenty years in prison and currently in detention at the army arrest and correction center, located at the Sangoulé-Lamizana camp, for an attempted putsch in 2015 and currently on trial for his alleged role in the 1987 assassination of former President Thomas Sankara.

In the barracks, anger has continued to rise since the Inata attack in mid-November in the north of the country, in which 53 gendarmes were killed, the bloodiest massacre to date against the army. On January 11, a dozen Burkinabe soldiers and five civilians were arrested and accused of fomenting a coup against Mr. Kaboré.

Saturday, January 22, hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital and in several cities of the country, despite the ban on marches, to denounce « incapacity » of the president to manage the security crisis. In Ouagadougou, the demonstrators had tried to erect barricades, before being dispersed. Several young people, including mobilization leaders, had been arrested.

In Western chancelleries, the concern is great. On Sunday, the French embassy recommended to its nationals to avoid all travel, while the Air France flight of the day was canceled. Behind the scenes, some fear a Malian scenario, with the military seizing power in Burkina Faso, a country that has experienced several coups and putsch attempts in the past. In a statement, the chairman of the commission of the Community of West African States said that he “with great concern” the situation and called for calm, while asking “the military to remain in a republican posture and to favor dialogue with the authorities”.

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