Burkina Faso’s deposed leader has denied reports he is hiding out at a French military base as supporters of the coup, some waving Russian flags, took to the streets and attacked the French embassy.
Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was ousted on Friday night by army captain Ibrahim Traoré, the second coup in eight months in a country wracked by a jihadi insurgency.
Damiba’s whereabouts have been unclear since Thursday when he visited the northern town of Djibo to address soldiers in the aftermath of a jihadi attack.
Traoré’s officials said on state television this weekend that the ousted president was at the French military base where he was planning a comeback.
“I formally deny having taken refuge in the French base of Kamboincé,” Damiba said in a statement on the presidency’s official Facebook page.
“I call on Captain Traoré and company to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war which Burkina Faso does not need in this context,” he added.
The French embassy in the capital of Ouagadougou also denied any links to Damiba. “France formally denies any involvement in the events under way since yesterday in Burkina Faso. The camp where the French forces are located has never hosted Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, nor has our embassy.”
Some former French colonies in the region have clashed with Paris as they have built closer relations with Moscow. Supporters of the latest coup took to the streets, with TV reports showing some of them waving Russian flags. A French cultural institute in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second-largest city, was also attacked.
French officials condemned the “violent acts” committed against its diplomatic outposts and said it was urging all its citizens in the country to exercise vigilance amid the unrest.
International and regional bodies condemned the new coup. The African Union, in a statement, expressed “deep concern” over the takeover and urged Burkina Faso leaders to stick to an agreement reached in July for a democratic transition by July 2024 at the latest.
Damiba swept to power in January on the back of popular support among Burkina Faso’s 21mn people as he ousted the democratically elected president Roch Kaboré. He vowed to defeat the al-Qaeda and Isis-linked groups that had ravaged much of the country amid mounting frustration from citizens and soldiers.
But Damiba could not get a foothold against the terrorists as violence surged and terrorists gained more ground. Analysts say terrorist actors are active in 10 of the country’s 13 regions. The attack on the convoy heading to Djibo that killed 11 soldiers and left many civilians missing and presumed dead precipitated the latest coup after months of tension in the military.
Groups linked to al-Qaeda and Isis have been wreaking havoc in the Sahel, an arid region encompassing Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and many other countries in north and west Africa since 2012.
The violence and governments’ inability to score decisive victories against perpetrators have made coups attractive to populations tired of the crises. In the past two years, coups have taken place in Guinea, Chad and twice in Mali where a group of officers first deposed an elected president before overthrowing the transitional government that replaced him.
The coups in Mali have led to a breakdown of the relationship between the west African nation and France, its former colonial power. France has withdrawn its peacekeeping Operation Barkhane troops and Niger has stopped fuel shipments to Mali.
Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military company known for operating in conflict hotspots including Syria and the war in Ukraine, and founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has been deployed to assist Malian forces. They have been accused of human rights violations in Mali and the Central African Republic.