Burkina Faso denies army takeover after barracks fire | The new times
Residents of Burkina Faso’s capital say gunfire erupted in the same area as the home of embattled President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré on Sunday evening, hours after mutinous soldiers took control of a military base in the capital, Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso’s government earlier said the army had failed to take control of the country after gunfire exchanged at several army barracks, including two in Ouagadougou, amid growing frustration over the government’s inability to prevent attacks by armed groups.
Government officials had sought to reassure the population that the situation was under control even after exchanges of fire at several military barracks, including two in Ouagadougou, amid growing frustration over the government’s inability prevent attacks by armed groups.
Several people in the vicinity of Kabore’s house told The Associated Press and AFP news agencies that they heard gunshots and there were helicopters overhead. A mutinous soldier also told AP by phone that heavy fighting was underway near the presidential palace, a claim that could not immediately be independently corroborated.
The unrest at Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses the army headquarters and a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed coup attempt in 2015, began as early as 5 a.m. GMT) on Sunday, according to a reporter from the Reuters news agency. .
The reporter then saw soldiers shooting in the air in the camp. A witness also reported gunfire at a military camp in Kaya, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Ouagadougou. Gunshots were heard at another military camp, Baby Sy, in the south of the capital, and at an airbase near the airport, military sources said.
Speaking on national television on Sunday, Defense Minister General Bathelemy Simpore denied rumors that Kabore had been detained and said the motive for the shots was still unclear.
“The Head of State has not been arrested; no institution in the country has been threatened,” Simpore said. “At the moment, we don’t know their motivations or what they are asking for. We are trying to get in touch with them,” he said, adding that calm had returned to some barracks.
Authorities later decreed a nighttime curfew from 8 p.m. (2000 GMT) “until further notice” and the Education Ministry announced that schools would be closed across the country on Monday and Tuesday.
Protesters alongside the mutinous soldiers had set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party in the capital earlier on Sunday, according to an AFP journalist present at the scene.
The fire destroyed the ground floor of the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) party building, where protesters also vandalized the facade before being dispersed by police firing tear gas, the journalist said. .
The unrest came a day after clashes between police and protesters during demonstrations over authorities’ failure to stem the violence ravaging the West African country.
It also follows the arrest earlier this month of scores of soldiers over an alleged plot to “destabilize institutions” in the country, which has a long history of coups.
A soldier leading the mutiny in a barracks told Nicolas Haque of Senegal-based Al Jazeera that they had six demands for the government.
“We are committing more troops to fight on the front line against groups linked to ISIL [and] al-Qaeda,” Haque said.
“They are also demanding better care for the injured and the families of those who have lost their loved ones as well as better salaries, training and the formation of permanent battalions to deal with threats. [The mutineers’ demands] are not asking President Kaboré to resign, but in their last statement they say that if their demands are not met, they will ask Kaboré to resign,” Haque added.
A voice recording obtained by AFP included similar claims.
“We want adequate resources for the battle” against extremist groups, a soldier from the Sangoule Lamizana base in Ouagadougou said on the recording, the news agency said.
Disgruntled soldiers also wanted top generals to be “replaced”, better care for injured soldiers and more support for the families of soldiers killed in action, the spokesman for the mutinous troops added in the anonymous recording.
Journalist Henry Wilkins, from Ouagadougou, told Al Jazeera on Sunday evening that he did not believe the government’s claims that the mutiny was under control were accurate.
“It doesn’t seem to be turning into a full-scale coup – I think mutiny is definitely the best word to use to describe what’s going on right now. However, the mutiny is still ongoing,” he said.
“And we are now hearing that there may be plans to continue the mutiny for a second day, and possibly even merge the mutiny with protesters who have tried to gather in central Ouagadougou. [on Sunday] but were dispersed by police using tear gas.
Alex Vines, director of the Africa program at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera that a “mutiny that has the ingredients of a coup is exactly the way to look at it”.
“We are now talking about a region that is seeing a comeback in favor of coups,” he said, after a coup attempt in Niger and successful coups in Mali and Guinea these last years.
“We have had five successful or attempted coups [in the region] if you count them all together this decade, Burkina Faso fits into this pattern.
On Saturday, police used tear gas to disperse protesters at rallies across the country, arresting dozens. Earlier in the week, authorities said they were banning protests for security reasons.
Groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have plagued the landlocked Sahel country since 2015, killing hundreds of people.
Attacks on civilians and soldiers have become increasingly frequent – and are largely concentrated in the north and east of the country. Security sources reported that two soldiers were killed after their vehicle ran over a crude bomb in the north on Saturday.
The violence has forced around 1.5 million people to flee their homes, the national emergency agency said, with many settling in the area around Kaya.
Al Jazeera’s Haque said anger against the president among sections of the military would have been building for months.
“In November, there was an attack in the north of the country in Inata, where 20 soldiers were killed. There was a national outcry when it turned out that these soldiers had gone two weeks without food rations and had to hunt for food,” he said. “It was then that they were attacked by groups linked to al-Qaeda.”
On November 27, hundreds demonstrated against Kaboré’s failure to quell the violence, sparking clashes with security forces that left dozens injured.
Vines said it was significant that the army chief appeared on television on Sunday, but the president did not.
“It is very telling that President Kaboré has not been visible at the moment. It is also very telling that this mutiny seems to have started in a military base where there is also a prison where some of the main military [figures] who participated in the 2015 coup attempt are incarcerated.
“It’s a real reminder of the fragility of events in Burkina Faso at the moment, and it also comes at a time when Western support for the region is waning.”