Unidentified gunmen killed at least 43 people in raids on villages in northern Burkina Faso in one of the deadliest attacks of the past year in the West African nation.
The assailants targeted at least two villages in the northern region near the border with Mali, the government said in a statement on Monday.
“On Sunday, attacks were carried out on the villages of Dinguila and Barga … in Yatenga province. The provisional toll is 43 victims,” it said.
The military was dispatched to secure the villages and at least six wounded victims were taken to the central hospital in nearby Ouahigouya, it added.
The statement did not blame any group and no claim was immediately made for the raids.
The villages attacked are known to be populated by ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who have been targeted by local defence groups and the army for their alleged affiliation with armed groups.
Burkina Faso has battled against fighters with links to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group since 2015, but the conflict has also provoked attacks on Fulani herders who other communities accuse of supporting fighters.
More than 800 people in Burkina Faso have been killed since 2015.
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Kabore condemned the attack and sent his condolences to the families of those killed. “I condemn with the greatest firmness the heinous attack,” he wrote on Twitter.
Tit-for-tat reprisal killings between the Fulani and rival farming communities have surged over the past year.
Two attacks in northern Burkina Faso in January separately killed 36 and 39 people. The violence has forced more than half a million from their homes and made much of the north ungovernable.
Analysts say the latest attack signifies a worrying trend.
“This is also one of the areas where we have identified a significant risk of increased stigmatisation against the Fulani,” William Assanvo, senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies, told The Associated Press.
This was the first massacre of this scale in that area, he said.
The trend is also occurring in neighbouring Mali, said Christian Poonwah, director of Safer Access Consulting, an international security company in Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso is in the centre of the Sahel region, where an armed uprising has spread from Mali.
Attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso killed at least 4,000 people in 2019, according to the United Nations.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters said they will only attend peace talks with Mali’s government if it expels French and UN forces.
“There can be no talking about negotiations under the shade of occupation, before the departure of all French forces and their followers from Mali,” the Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin said in a statement issued on social media on Sunday.
There was no immediate response from Mali’s government, which has been proposing talks in recent weeks to try and end the violence.
But Malian authorities have repeatedly said they want French forces to stay, and France has promised to boost its military presence in the Sahel region.