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The government said militants killed at least 132 people in the volatile north of Burkina Faso when the UN chief condemned the “monstrous attack” and called on countries to step up the fight against “violent extremism.”
The attackers struck on Friday night, killing residents of the village of Solhan in Yaga province, which borders Niger. They also burned down houses and the village market, according to a government statement on Saturday.
Among the victims were seven children.
Another 40 residents were injured, a government spokesman for Usseni Tambour told reporters.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called the killings “barbaric” and said that the people of Burkina Faso “must remain united and firm against these obscurantist forces.”
So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
The night attack was the deadliest in Burkina Faso in recent years.
Since 2015, the West African country has struggled to fend off the increasing and deadly attacks by groups associated with al-Qaeda and, more recently, ISIS (ISIL). The attacks first started in the north, close to the border with Mali, but then spread to other regions, especially east, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
An estimated 1.2 million people in Burkina Faso have been displaced from their homes by protracted conflict as armed groups intensify attacks on the army and civilians, despite the presence of thousands of French soldiers and other international and regional forces across the Sahel. …
‘Unacceptable human sacrifice’
UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was “outraged” by the killings in Burkina Faso and offered the country “full support” from the world organization.
Guterres “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underlines the urgent need for the international community to redouble its support for Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable loss of life,” spokesman Stéphane Dujarrick said in a statement.
Burkina Faso has declared 72 hours of mourning in the country.
In Solhan, a local source told AFP that the attackers were stuck at about 2 a.m. (02:00 GMT) at the position of the Homeland Defense Volunteers (VDP), a civilian defense force that supports the national army.
They then attacked homes and carried out “executions,” the source said.
The VAR was created in December 2019 to help Burkina Faso’s poorly equipped armed forces fight armed groups, but AFP estimates that more than 200 people have died. Volunteers are given just two weeks of military training before they go to work with the security forces. They usually carry out surveillance, information gathering, or escort duties.
Corrin Dufka, director of West Africa at Human Rights Watch, said the attack on Solhan followed a familiar pattern seen in other parts of the Sahel this year.
“Dynamics is [armed groups] come, they take over the civil defense post and apply collective punishment against the rest of the village, ”Dufka said. “This is the pattern we’ve seen all over the place this year.”
For example, in neighboring Niger, armed attackers killed 137 people in March, which analysts and human rights groups believe could have been revenge for killings by self-defense groups in the area or arrests of people suspected of belonging to armed groups.
According to Dufka, the attack on Friday brought the number of people killed by armed groups in the Sahel region since January to more than 500. Most of the killings were carried out by the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara, she added.
Probably more attacks
The Solhan attack comes just weeks after Defense Minister Sheriff Xi and other military leaders visited the nearby town of Sebba to reassure people that life is back to normal after a series of military operations in the area, according to Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Huck. …
“There were also barracks near the site of the attack,” Hack said. “But they didn’t react. They never arrived at the scene. It is a feeling that people now share across the Sahel – that they cannot rely on their security forces to protect them. “
According to analysts, with the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and neighboring countries, more violent attacks are likely to follow.
“There was a terrible massacre. And I’m afraid we’ll have to expect more reports like this, ”said Alex Vines, Program Director for Africa at Chatham House, an international think tank.
“This is a hot spot. This is the triangular area of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger where there is very significant displacement and violence … Governments are becoming weaker and more ineffective. And they don’t provide the security that the population needs. So the armed groups … are filling those gaps. “
Vines told Al Jazeera that the upsurge in violence in the Sahel has worried other West African countries.
“This is all very serious and spreads across the regions. It’s not just about the Sahel, ”he said. “Currently, there are security incidents in countries along the Gulf of Guinea. So think about Benin, think about Togo. The Ghanaians are especially concerned about what is happening on their border with Burkina Faso. Cote d’Ivoire too. This is becoming an increasingly international problem. “
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