BURKINA FASO: Soldiers in the streets

Friday, October 12, 2007

Soldiers in Burkina Faso took to the streets and threatened to use force this week after talks over working conditions broke down.

Around 100 soldiers, some dressed in military fatigues, chanted and shouted in central Ouagadougou on 7 October, after they were denied entrance to the officers mess. Some of the soldiers briefly occupied the streets again on 9 October.

Gendarmes surrounded the army headquarters after a mob of soldiers attempted to march to the officers’ building.

In the talks, which collapsed at the end of September, the soldiers demanded a five-year increase in the time they are allowed to serve in the army. (The country has extremely high unemployment). The soldiers also demanded an increase in pensions to reflect the current cost of living.

Soldiers told journalists that they are against “corrupt and delinquent officers” who they accuse of embezzling their salaries. Some of the soldiers told journalists they would “use force” if their demands were not met. However they said they were not “after the president or his regime”.

In late December 2006 the police headquarters in Ouagadougou came under mortar and automatic weapons fire during 24 hours of clashes between demonstrating soldiers and the police. Five people were killed and 600 prisoners escaped from the city prison which was partly destroyed in the fighting.

The violence in December, which also spread to the country’s second city Bobo Dioulasso and to the town of Kaya in the north, prompted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) to cancel summits meant to take place in Burkina Faso in December.

The army, ministry of defence and representatives of the soldiers subsequently set up a committee to look into the soldiers’ complaints but according to the chair of the committee, Colonel Amadou Pingrenoma Zagre, representatives of the soldiers pulled out of the talks on 27 September.

Zagre said at a press conference on Monday that the soldiers’ demands are “illegal”. “We are in a lawful state where all demonstrations are regulated by the law”, he said. “All measures have been taken to assure order and security.”

Burkina Faso has experienced five military coups since it became independent from France in 1960. The most recent coup occurred in 1987 when the popular president Thomas Sankara was killed and Burkina Faso’s current President Blaise Compaoré took over, retaining power in elections in 1991, 1998 and November 2005. 

Political tensions are currently high ahead of 15 October as Compaoré supporters mark his 20 years in power while supporters of Sankara commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death. Both sides have organised press conferences to accuse the other of intimidation and defamation.

Source: IRIN