Army frees abducted women, babies in Burkina Faso
Soldiers rescued a group of 62 women and four babies abducted by suspected jihadists last week in northern Burkina Faso, state television and a security source said Friday.
The news came just hours after security sources said a series of attacks on Thursday had left around 30 people dead in the volatile West African nation that has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2015.
The abduction of the women and babies last week prompted alarm from the United Nations, while the country’s military junta warned of a rise in jihadist attacks on civilians.
In its main evening news bulletin, Burkina Faso’s RTB channel, referring to an army “operation”, showed images of the women freed on Friday and brought to the capital Ouagadougou.
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Several security sources confirmed the news to AFP.
The women and babies were abducted last week on Thursday and Friday near Arbinda, in the northern Sahel region, as they foraged for food outside their village.
Security sources said they were found in the Tougouri region, 200 kilometres (125 miles) further south. Helicopters flew them to Ouagadougou, where they were met by senior army officers.
“Their debriefing will allow us to know more about their abductors, their detention and their convoy,” said one security source.
The authorities had mobilised search teams both on the ground and in the air to trace the women.
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Parts of Burkina Faso, including the Sahel region, have for months been under a blockade by jihadist groups in the region, making it increasingly difficult to supply the communities there.
The resulting shortages forced local people to leave the safety of their villages to search for food.
Wave of attacks
News of the women’s return came as security sources reported four attacks by suspected jihadist attacks Thursday, killing 30 people, including 16 members of a civilian auxiliary supporting the army.
The “first attack targeted an advance party of Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP) in Rakoegtenga,” in the northern province of Bam, a VDP official said on condition of anonymity.
Six auxiliaries and a woman were killed, he said and around 10 people wounded.
The second attack, an ambush on a convoy escorted by auxiliaries and soldiers killed around 10 auxiliaries and a person in Nayala province in the northwest, he added.
Security sources confirmed two “jihadist attacks” but gave no precise death toll.
The VDP, set up in December 2019, comprises civilian volunteers who are given two weeks of military training and then work alongside the army, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.
Security sources said two other incidents linked to armed jihadist groups had been recorded on Thursday. In the north-central province of Sanmatenga, a joint military and VDP team was targeted in Zincko, said one source.
“About 10 terrorists were neutralised (killed). Unfortunately, four civilians were also killed,” the source said.
Later Thursday, gunmen raided the town of Sanaba in Banwa province, killing eight civilians.
Turning to Russia
These were just the latest attacks to hit army volunteers supporting the military in their seven-year fight against jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
The insurgency has claimed the lives of thousands and driven at least two million others to flee their homes.
Captain Ibrahim Traore, leader of the military junta that seized power last September, said in his end-of-year address in December that his aim was to “recapture the territory occupied by the hordes of terrorists.”
He warned last week that the extremists were switching tactics to “focus on civilians.”
In recent months, the new regime expressed its willingness to work with Russia, which has been supplying weapons to the military regime in neighbouring Mali.
The presence of France, which has around 400 special soldiers operating in the country, has become more and more controversial.
Several hundred demonstrators in Ouagadougou Friday called for France’s ambassador to leave the country and for the closure of a French military base.
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French troops withdrew from Mali last year, after relations with the military regime there deteriorated as it drew closer to Russia.