Home News ‘They shot at us all’: Burkina Faso accused of killing civilians

‘They shot at us all’: Burkina Faso accused of killing civilians

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He said he lay on top of his young sons and tried to protect them with his body.

The military forced them and dozens of other villagers under a baobab tree. He said the soldiers then opened fire.

“They shot at all of us,” said Dauda, ​​a farmer who had survived for years in jihadist-controlled areas only to be shot by the troops who were supposed to protect him.

The mass killings in the village of Daouda and a nearby hamlet in February were among the worst in Burkina Faso’s decade of unrest. Burkina Faso is torn apart by an Islamist insurgency that has swept parts of West Africa.

Burkina Faso faces relentless attacks from extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, placing it at the top of the list of global military threats. global terrorism index Last year, it became the country hardest hit by terrorism in the world.

The resulting conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million people, accounting for 10% of the country’s population.

But in its decade-long battle against the insurgents, Burkina Faso’s army has also waged a brutal war.it is charged Targeted civilians multiple times The men are suspected of collaborating with the jihadists or simply living near them, according to survivors and human rights groups. Soldiers often killed civilians on the spot, they said.

Sometimes the killing is revenge. Before the army attacked Soro, a village in Dauda, ​​rebels attacked government-allied outposts.

Soon after, soldiers showed up on February 25 and immediately killed more than 223 people in Soro and another nearby village. Human Rights Watch said last month. The report found that dozens of women and 56 children were killed.

The New York Times interviewed villagers and reviewed cellphone videos of the aftermath. Residents buried the bodies in eight mass graves, according to videos recorded days later in the deserted village. The New York Times confirmed the videos were filmed in Solo and confirmed the appearance of apparent mass graves in satellite images taken two weeks later.

The government of Burkina Faso said it had launched an investigation into the killing but did not admit that the military was responsible. Instead, it suspended the BBC, Voice of America and other international news outlets simply for reporting on Human Rights Watch’s findings.

Even so, Burkina Faso’s Security Minister Mahmoudou Sana issued a vague but chilling statement the day after the killings, in which he referred to himself as “passive or active” Condemn anyone suspected of supporting the rebels.

Most of the survivors have now fled Solo, including Dauda and his family, whose full names are withheld for their safety. A villager who returned to his hometown after the killings confirmed that dozens of male bodies were found around the baobab tree, as well as the bodies of women and children in the courtyard.

Unrest in Burkina Faso has also fueled political instability, with rebel soldiers seizing power by force twice in the past two and a half years, citing conflict as a reason.

Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who launched the latest coup in 2022 and now rules the country, has been waging an all-out war against Islamist militants. He has recruited and armed more than 50,000 militiamen and urged citizens to report neighbors or others suspected of collaborating with extremists.

People living in disputed areas are sometimes caught in the crossfire, such as the villages of Soro and Nongding, which were attacked on February 25.

Dauda said that for years, al-Qaeda-linked insurgents forced his village to live under an interpretation of Islamic law and pay taxes, mostly in the form of cow heads, in exchange for so-called protection.

“Without a government presence, we have to accept the deal or leave the village,” he said.

The militants have also barred men from Soro and Nongding from joining the militia that fights alongside Burkina Faso’s army, the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland.

As a result, men in villages were no longer protected by the army and militia but became targets.

Corinne Dufka, an analyst with many years of experience in Burkina Faso, said: “The army and militias have been casting a very wide net and executing people who are perceived to support jihadist groups in an attempt to Suppress the growth of these organizations.”

Islamic militants have Kill more civilians In Burkina Faso, the army or militias are vastly outnumbered. They also killed dozens of soldiers and cut off access to food convoys and humanitarian aid.

But as the militia ranks have grown over the past 18 months, so have reports of mass killings. Burkina Faso authorities have mostly ignored calls from Burkina Faso. European Unionthis United Nations and others Investigate them properly. They suppressed local journalists and expelled foreign journalists, Forcibly recruiting critics, including human rights activists.Reporters Without Borders calls Burkina Faso and other countries in the region led by military juntas “No news” area.

Foreign diplomats have also been targeted. Burkina Faso’s foreign ministry summoned the acting U.S. ambassador this month, the United States and Britain said in a statement. Joint Statement They were “deeply concerned by reports of massacres of civilians.”

It is unclear whether Burkina Faso’s military has made significant progress in the war since Captain Traoré took power in 2022. The government says it controls 70 percent of the country, but foreign diplomats and humanitarian workers estimate Islamist militants have had freedom of movement for 60 years. Percentage of the country.

Authorities did not respond to requests for comment. In April 2023, they admit Men in military uniforms killed dozens of civilians in an attack. Prosecutors have launched an investigation but have not released any conclusions yet.

Just before the soldiers reached the village of Soro on February 25, jihadists attacked a militia outpost a few miles away, according to one source. Report Broadcast by Burkina Faso National Television. It was one of many attacks in Burkina Faso that day.

“The soldiers asked us, ‘Where are they?'” Dauda recalled, guessing the military was asking about Islamist militants.

A 32-year-old woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch described a soldier telling her: “Why didn’t you warn us about the arrival of the jihadists? You are terrorists!”

Soldiers rounded up the men and shot those who tried to escape, according to witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. They also trapped women and children in the courtyard of a house.

Dauda said he tried to catch a glimpse of his wife under a baobab tree, but the crowd was quickly obscured by a cloud of dust and uniformed men opened fire. He said another soldier on guard ordered him to lower his head, so he lay down on top of his 9- and 10-year-old sons.

Minutes later, soldiers opened fire on the men.

Dauda said he somehow emerged from the pile of bodies uninjured, but two of his sons were shot in the legs. He said he rushed into the yard to look for his wife, but most of the women in the yard were dead. Several babies on their backs were crying. His wife was not present.

Dauda said he fled to a neighboring country with his two injured sons with the help of neighbors. He also found his wife there a day later: most of the villagers and others in surrounding hamlets had fled after the attack.

Dauda said he didn’t know if he would ever be able to return home.

The soldiers didn’t stop after Solo’s killing. They advanced several miles to the village of Nongding, where dozens more were killed, according to Human Rights Watch.

The grief continues and people are still heading to the mass graves, according to a video obtained by The Times. At the site of some of Soro’s makeshift mass graves, a message etched into new cement pays tribute to the victims of the “massacre of February 25, 2024.”

“May their souls rest in peace,” it read.

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