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Burkina Faso soldiers mutiny over anti-jihadist strategy

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Soldiers mutinied on Sunday in several barracks in Burkina Faso to demand the departure of army chiefs and ‘more suitable means’ to fight against the jihadists who have struck the country since 2015. AFP

Burkina Faso soldiers mutiny over anti-jihadist strategy

Shots were heard late on January 23 near the home of Burkina Faso’s president after soldiers staged mutinies at several barracks to demand the sacking of the country’s military top brass and more resources for the battle against Islamist insurgents.

Residents also reported they saw a helicopter above the private residence of President Roch Marc Kabore in the capital Ouagadougou.

It followed gunfire earlier on January 23 at several army bases, prompting fears of yet another coup in a volatile West African country prone to military takeovers.

Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting over the government’s handling of the jihadist threat set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party.

But the government quickly denied rumours of a putsch, and a list of demands presented by the rebellious troops made no mention of trying to oust Kabore, while emphasising the need for a better anti-jihadist strategy.

“We want adequate resources for the battle” against Islamist extremists, a soldier from the Sangoule Lamizana base in Ouagadougou said in a voice recording received by AFP.

The disaffected soldiers also wanted top generals to be “replaced”, better care for wounded troops and more support for the families of soldiers killed in battle, the spokesman for the mutinous troops added in the anonymous recording.

The authorities declared an overnight curfew from 8pm (2000 GMT) on January 23 “until further notice” and the education ministry said schools would be closed January 24-25 across the poor landlocked country.

The unrest comes a little over a week after 12 people, including a senior army officer, were arrested on suspicion of planning to “destabilise” Burkina’s institutions.

It also comes a day after police used tear gas to disperse banned rallies, arresting dozens.

Residents in the Gounghin district, where the Sangoule Lamizana base is situated, reported seeing soldiers firing in the air and sealing off the area around the barracks.

Shots were also heard at the Baby Sy barracks in the south of the capital, as well as at an air base near the airport, which was also surrounded by soldiers wearing balaclavas, witnesses said.

There was also gunfire at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya, residents there said, and mobile internet services were cut.

The government moved quickly to try to restore control.

“Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover,” government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement.

“The government, while acknowledging that there was gunfire in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the public to remain calm.”

Defence Minister General Barthelemy Simpore said on nationwide TV that “none of the republic’s institutions has been troubled” by the revolt.

He added that there were “localised, limited” incidents “in a few barracks”, and that he was investigating.

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