Bomb kills dozens of civilians in Burkina Faso
By Elian Peltier
At least 35 civilians were killed in northern Burkina Faso after a convoy of vehicles hit a roadside bomb, according to authorities, the latest attack in the West African country that has faced hundreds from Islamic groups this year.
The convoy, which was being escorted by the military, was carrying civilians and supplies to the capital, Ouagadougou, on Monday, when one of the vehicles detonated an explosive device, the regional governor, Rodolphe Sorgho, said in a statement. At least 37 other people were wounded, the governor said.
No group had claimed responsibility as of Tuesday, but extremist groups linked with al-Qaida and the Islamic State have for years carried out attacks in Burkina Faso and neighboring countries, tightening their grip on the area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. They have mined roads, sabotaged water facilities and kept towns under blockade, which military-escorted convoys like the one hit Monday have scrambled to resupply.
After seizing power in a coup in January, military rulers in Burkina Faso made the fight against armed groups their top priority, vowing to claim back territory lost to the militants and restore security in the country’s east and north.
But the violence has only spread. In the first six months of the year, groups affiliated with al-Qaida carried out more than 400 attacks in 10 of the country’s 13 regions, according to Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a crisis monitoring organization.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, with nearly 2 million people — 10% of the population — displaced by conflict, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The ever-growing list of attacks forced more people to flee from January to July than during the whole of last year, according to the group, driving up food insecurity as civilians leave their fields and livestock behind.
“Too often, displacement and hunger come as a one-two punch,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director, Hassane Hamadou, said in a statement Monday.
The attack Monday occurred along the road from the town of Bourzanga to Djibo, a regional hub 130 miles north of Ouagadougou that has been cut off from the rest of the country by armed groups. It came less than a month after 15 government soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a roadside bomb in a nearby area.
Armed Islamic insurgents have mined countless roads in the country’s east and north, according to humanitarian groups, killing civilians reaching markets, searching for water or fleeing attacks on villages.
They have also raped women who were fleeing attacks or looking for food, according to Human Rights Watch, which documented dozens of cases of sexual abuse this year.
In an attempt to address the violence, the government has also vowed to provide logistical support to local community leaders who are conducting talks with jihadis. But it has so far fallen short of calling for a national dialogue with armed groups.
In an interview with The New Humanitarian in April, Burkina Faso’s minister for social cohesion and national reconciliation, Yéro Boly, said that if some local extremist fighters wanted to lay down weapons and come back home, “we have no reason to refuse.”