Burkinabes go to the polls on Sunday as the country faces an escalating humanitarian and economic crisis.
A local official in northern Burkina Faso has said at least 18 people were killed and one seriously wounded in an attack this week that also caused “massive displacement”.
Salfo Kabore, governor of Seno province located in conflict-hit Burkina Faso’s Sahel region, said unidentified gunmen carried out the attack on Monday in Yattakou village.
Many local residents fled towards the capital of the Seytenga commune, while the wounded person was taken to hospital in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, Kabore said in a statement on Wednesday.
The attack happened the same day that two Spanish journalists and an Irish conservationist were killed and a Burkinabe soldier went missing when their anti-poaching patrol was ambushed by rebels in the country’s east.
While it is unclear who committed the attack in the Sahel region, a high-ranking security official told The Associated Press news agency that it was likely carried out by fighters linked to ISIL who are known to operate in the area along the border with Niger. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
In recent years, large parts of the western portion of the Sahel, a semi-arid region directly south of the Sahara Desert, have been plagued by violence that involves multiple armed groups, military campaigns by national armies and international partners as well as local militias.
In Burkina Faso, the conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced more than one million and created a worsening humanitarian crisis
This week’s attack in the country’s hard-hit Sahel region came as rebels have ramped up attacks against civilians and security forces, according to a statement by the government, which said the “terrorists have carried out acts of intimidation, looting, and assassination on civilian populations.”
Earlier this month in Seno province’s Gorgadji town, fighters killed at least 10 local defence fighters, volunteers recruited by the government to help the army, Hamidou Damboro Zango, the village chief told AP.
Zango, whose son and nephew were killed in the violence, said that even though Gorgadji is controlled by the army, rebels managed to enter at night and steal people’s animals. When the volunteer fighters tried to retrieve them the next day they were ambushed and killed, he said.
“I’m sad. As a chief, I can’t watch my people die,” said Zango. “We need help.”
The region was plunged into conflict in 2012 when armed groups overtook a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. France led an intervention the next year to beat back the armed groups, which scattered and regrouped before taking their campaign into central Mali in 2015 and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Earlier this week, the United Nations and NGOs warned that a record 29 million people in six countries in the Sahel were in need of humanitarian assistance in the face of “unparalleled” insecurity and growing hunger.