Coup Fears as Soldiers Mutiny in Burkina Faso

There are fears a coup might have occurred in Burkina Faso after soldiers revolted on Sunday, shooting in several barracks across the country with President Roch Marc Kabore whereabouts unknow,

But Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore denied rumours that President Kabore had been detained after heavy gunfire at barracks, adding the cause of the attack is still unknown.

Soldiers mutinying in Burkina Faso on Sunday fired intermittently as they demanded more government support for the fight against Islamist militants and the resignation of military and intelligence chiefs.

Social media speculation on Saturday that the army had seized power or detained President Kabore was denied by the government.

Around 5:00 in the morning, heavy gunfire erupted in Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a 2015 coup attempt.

Hundreds of people came out to support the mutineers. Around 100 people sang the national anthem outside the Lamizana camp, calling for the country’s freedom.

The soldiers responded to the chants by shooting into the air. Whether this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or disperse them was unclear.

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Around 300 protesters were dispersed with teargas in downtown Ouagadougou, near Place de la Nation.

The military also fired into the air at the air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport. Gunfire has also been reported at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.

Increasing frustration has been reported in Burkina Faso over the government’s handling of an insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and ISIS. A militant attack in November claimed the lives of 49 military police, prompting street protests calling for Kabore’s resignation.

A mutineer spoke to reporters outside the Lamizana camp, stating that he wanted the army chief of staff and intelligence chief to resign.

He also called for improving the welfare of injured soldiers and their families, as well as “appropriate” resources and training for the army, which has suffered heavy losses from the militants.

The government of Burkina Faso confirmed gunfire at military bases but denied reports circulating on social media that the army had seized power.

The reasons for the gunfire remain unclear, according to Simpore.

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“The head of state has not been detained; no institution of the country has been threatened,” Simpore said. “For now, we don’t know their motives or what they are demanding. We are trying to get in contact with them,” he said.

Kabore was not seen in public. On Sunday, his Twitter account tweeted a single message to encourage Burkina Faso to win its Africa Cup of Nations game against Gabon later that day. There was no mention of events at home.

NetBlocks, a website that monitors internet disruptions, reported that web access was interrupted around 10 a.m. 

After Mali and Guinea’s successful coups over the past 18 months, governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups. After President Idriss Deby’s death on the battlefield, the military also took over in Chad last year.

This month, the authorities in Burkina Faso arrested a dozen soldiers suspected of conspiring against the government.

Analysts saw the arrests as part of President Kabore’s efforts to shore up his support within the armed forces after a shake-up in the army’s leadership in December.

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Over 2,000 people were killed last year by Islamist attacks in Burkina Faso, part of a larger insurgency in the Sahel region of West Africa.

Gilbert Diendere, a former ally of former President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, is one of the inmates at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison. Compaore was overthrown in a 2014 uprising.

The following year, Diendere led a coup attempt against the transitional government that failed. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019. In addition, he’s currently standing trial for the killing of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during the coup in 1987.

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