OUAGADOUGOU: At least 43 people have been killed in attacks in northern Burkina Faso, the government said on Monday, in what local sources described as apparent vigilante reprisals for jihadist violence that has claimed hundreds of lives.
Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, has battled a jihadist insurgency since 2015, but the conflict has also provoked attacks on Fulani herders whom other communities accuse of supporting militants.
“On Sunday, attacks were carried out on the villages of Dinguila and Barga … in Yatenga province. The provisional toll is 43 victims,” the government said in a statement.
It said six people were hospitalised with injuries.
The statement did not blame any group for the attack or mention the Fulani community, but a local source reached by telephone blamed “self-defence groups who are acting in reprisal against jihadist attacks”.
Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore decreed two days of national mourning over the atrocities.
According to local sources, the nomadic Fulani people make up the bulk of the population of the villages.
Since jihadists have recruited among the Fulani, other communities accuse them of supporting militants, and vigilante reprisal attacks against Fulani villages have been on the rise.
A year ago, armed militia attacked the village of Yirgou and killed six people including the village chief, triggering a wave of violence between rival communities.
Burkina Faso is in the centre of the Sahel region where a militant insurgency has spread from Mali. Attacks in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso killed at least 4,000 people in 2019, according to the United Nations.
As elsewhere in West Africa, deadly clashes often erupt in Burkina Faso between Fulani herders and farmers over land, grazing and water. But the activities of jihadist groups have fanned the tensions.
Islamist militants have killed more than 800 people in Burkina Faso since 2015, when jihadist violence began to spill over from neighbouring Mali and spread across the Sahel region.
Violence has displaced more than half a million people in Burkina Faso alone.
Burkina Faso’s armed forces struggle with poor equipment and lack of training and funding despite being part of a regional Sahel anti-jihadist campaign with neighbouring states.
Militants are increasingly using improvised explosive devices and landmines in Burkina Faso, often combining them with ambushes.
In January the Burkina parliament adopted a law allowing for the recruitment of local volunteers in the fight against jihadists.
The recruits would be expected to conduct surveillance and provide information and protection for their communities in the event of an attack while waiting for security forces to deploy, according to Defence Minister Cheriff Sy.