Mediator Burkina Fasos ousted leader offers to resign

Mediator: Burkina Faso’s ousted leader offers to resign

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) – Burkina Faso’s ousted coup leader has offered his resignation pending his safety and other conditions, and the new junta leader who ousted him has accepted the deal, with religious leaders the latest The West African nation’s policy decisions mediate the crisis, Sunday said.

A junta spokesman later announced on state television that their leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore was officially named head of state after Friday’s coup that ousted Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

Her seizure of power marked Burkina Faso’s second military coup this year and heightened fears that the political chaos could divert attention from an Islamic insurgency whose violence has killed thousands and forced 2 million to flee. Riots ensued in Ouagadougou, the capital, with mobs attacking the French embassy and other France-linked locations on Saturday, falsely believing they were harboring Damiba.

Along with agreeing not to harm him or prosecute him, Damiba called on Traore and the new junta leadership to honor commitments already made to West Africa’s ECOWAS regional bloc. Damiba, who came to power in a coup last January, recently reached an agreement to hold elections by 2024.

“President Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba proposed his own resignation to avoid clashes,” said Hamidou Yameogo, a spokesman for the mediation effort.

Traore accepted the terms, religious leaders said, but there was no immediate confirmation from Damiba himself of an official resignation. His whereabouts have not been known since the coup on Friday evening.

Amid the mediation, the new junta leadership also called for an end to the unrest.

In a statement broadcast on state television, the junta spokesman, Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho, urged people to “refrain from any acts of violence and vandalism,” particularly those directed against the French embassy or French military base.

Anti-French sentiment soared after the new junta claimed interim President Damiba was hiding at a French military base after his ouster. France vehemently denied the accusation, but demonstrators soon crowded with torches around the French embassy in Ouagadougou.

Saturday’s violence was condemned by the French Foreign Ministry, which has denied any involvement in the rapidly unfolding events. French institutes in Ouagadougou and the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, have also been targeted, and French citizens have been urged to be very careful.

“The situation in Burkina Faso is very volatile,” a French spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Damiba came to power in January and vowed to protect the country from jihadist violence. However, the situation only worsened as the jihadists imposed blockades on cities and intensified attacks. Last week at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians were missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in the Sahel township of Gaskinde. The group of officials led by Traore said on Friday Damiba had failed and would be removed.

Some members of Burkina Faso’s military also felt Damiba was too comfortable with former colonial ruler France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight Islamic extremists.

Some supporters of the new putschist Traore have called on the Burkina Faso government to seek Russian support instead. Traore supporters could be seen outside the state broadcaster on Sunday cheering and waving Russian flags.

In neighboring Mali, the coup leader has invited Russian Wagner Group mercenaries to help with security, a move that has drawn global condemnation and accusations of human rights abuses.

Conflict analysts say Damiba may have been overly optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term, but that a change at the top does not mean the country’s security situation will improve.

“The issues are too deep and the crisis deeply rooted,” said Heni Nsaibia, senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, adding that “militant groups will most likely continue to exploit the country’s political disorder.”

The international community has widely condemned the ousting of Damiba, who himself ousted the country’s democratically elected president in January.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States is “deeply concerned by events in Burkina Faso.”

“We call on those responsible to de-escalate the situation, prevent harm to citizens and soldiers and return to a constitutional order,” he said.

The African Union and the West African region bloc known as ECOWAS also slammed the developments, urging the military “to avoid escalation and protect civilians at all costs.”

___ Mednick reported from Barcelona. Associated Press writers Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.