Piercing thorns and stones underfoot did not stop the young woman as she charged through thickets, baby strapped to her back, fleeing armed men who kidnapped her with dozens of others in northern Burkina Faso last week.
Now back home in the town of Arbinda along with a few who also managed to escape, the 20-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous for fear over her safety, recounted the ordeal that started when unknown men fired gunshots and then closed in on her as she was scouring the bush for food.
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Burkina Faso authorities said about 50 women were kidnapped on January 12 and 13 in Arbinda district, part of the restive Soum province in the West African country.
The escapee said the gunmen forced the women to walk through the bush for a whole day.
“The next morning they assembled us again … It was at this moment that some of us decided to take a risk. Those who were lucky managed to escape,” she said.
Her 40-year-old mother is still in the hands of the gunmen, she said.
Another survivor, who did not wish to be named, said her abductors gathered women into groups and made them shepherd stolen sheep to disguise what was happening.
“I managed to hide in a ravine with another [woman],” the second woman said. “We got back to the village at nightfall. Others returned the following morning.”
Increase of attacks on civilians
According to Burkina Faso’s military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, who took power last year in a second coup, gunmen are switching tactics to focus on civilians.
“Today, another phase has been launched by the terrorists,” Traore said at a meeting at the University of Ouagadougou with students from around the country.
“Militarily, our men are determined to confront them, so they are starting to attack civilians, innocent people, humiliate them, kill them.”
Traore added attacks have “multiplied” since last October and the military is “determined to resolve this terrorist issue”.
Arbinda lies in the Sahel administrative region – an area under blockade by armed groups and difficult to resupply.
A security source said an airlift to resupply Arbinda began on Tuesday morning.
“It was about time – we have had nothing to eat for months. Just leaves, which are also becoming scarce,” said Souleymane, a resident.
An uprising linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) spread into Burkina Faso from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Armed men have seized swathes of territory across West Africa’s Sahel region over the past decade and continue to gain ground.
Thousands have been killed and more than 2.7 million displaced by the unrest, which has contributed to growing food insecurity and discontent that led to military coups in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso’s arid north, a hotbed of armed-group activity, has been particularly hard hit. Hardliners there have blocked roads and attacked convoys delivering supplies to trapped citizens.