Burkina coup-makers accuse France of supporting counterattack

France ‘firmly denies’ any involvement of its army in an alleged counteroffensive plan by toppled leader Damiba.

Burkina Faso
Soldiers stand guard in an armoured vehicle in Ouagadougou [Vincent Bado/Reuters]

The army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso say toppled military leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba is planning a counteroffensive from a “French base”.

Gunshots rang out Saturday in the capital Ouagadougou amid signs of lingering tensions, a day after the officers overthrew the man who seized power in a coup only nine months earlier.

“[Damiba] is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counteroffensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” the coup-makers said in a statement read on national television and signed by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new leader.

An hour before the televised comments, the French embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events”. It also denied “rumours that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military”.

France is Burkina Faso’s former coloniser.

Angry protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou late Saturday. Video on social media showed residents with lit torches outside the perimeter and other images showed part of the compound ablaze.

In Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, angry crowds also vandalised the French Institute.

The coup

In a statement published on the Burkinabe presidency’s official Facebook page on Saturday, Damiba – whose whereabouts remain unknown – urged his rivals “to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need”.

On Friday, pre-dawn gunfire erupted around the presidential palace. The presidency’s head of communications posted on Facebook that negotiations were under way to restore calm.

Within hours, a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce Damiba’s removal.

The new leaders swiftly suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the transitional government and legislative assembly and instituted a 9pm to 5am curfew.

‘Seek dialogue’

The chief of staff of Burkina Faso’s army called on opposing factions to cease hostilities and continue talks, calling the situation “an internal crisis within the National Armed Forces”.

Traore was previously head of “Cobra”, a special forces unit in the northern region of Kaya.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the seizure of power and called “on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue”, his spokesman said in a statement.

“Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” it said.

Damiba came to power in a coup in January. He installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back armed groups.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing rebellion, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Chad, Guinea and Mali since 2020.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin, 30km (19 miles) from Ouagadougou.

New Military Leader Of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, delivers a speech in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, January 27, 2022, in this screengrab taken from video.
Paul-Henri Damiba came to power in a coup in January [File: Reuters]

Tense situation

The situation in Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday. Helicopters hovered above the city and shops that had opened for business in the morning shut their doors.

The European Union and the African Union (AU) added their voices to a chorus of global condemnation of the second coup this year in the restive West African country.

“The chairperson calls upon the military to immediately and totally refrain from any acts of violence or threats to the civilian population, civil liberties, human rights,” the AU said in a statement.

Source: News Agencies