Ouagadougou (AFP) – Gunfire broke out at several army barracks in Burkina Faso on Sunday, prompting the government to deny that the military had seized control of the notoriously volatile Sahel state.
“Since 1 am, gunfire has been heard here in Gounghin coming from the Sangoule Lamizana camp,” a soldier in a district on the western suburbs of the capital Ouagadougou said.
Residents there also spoke of gunfire, and said it was increasingly heavy.
Shots were heard at the Baby Sy barracks in the south of the capital and at an air base near the airport, military sources said.
There was also gunfire at barracks in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya, residents there told AFP.
The Sangoule Lamizana camp houses a military prison where General Gilbert Diendere — a former right-hand man to deposed president Blaise Compaore — is serving a 20-year term for an attempted coup in 2015.
He is also on trial for his alleged part in the 1987 assassination of the country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, during a putsch that brought Compaore to power.
Compaore, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014, fled to Ivory Coast, and is being tried in absentia for the assassination.
The government of Compaore’s successor, Roch Marc Kabore, swiftly denied that there had been any coup.
“Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover,” government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement.
“The government, while acknowledging that there was gunfire in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the public to remain calm.”
Defence Minister General Barthelemy Simpore said said on nationwide TV “none of the Republic’s institutions has been troubled at the present moment”.
He added that there were “localised, limited” incidents “in a few barracks,” and that he was investigating.
Earlier this month, the authorities said they had arrested 12 people, including a senior army officer, over a suspected plot to “destabilise institutions” in the country.
The landlocked West African state ranks among the poorest in the world, and has had little stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
– Anger at jihadist toll –
The latest turbulence coincides with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015, overwhelming Burkina’s poorly-trained and badly-equipped armed forces.
Around 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while around 1.5 million people are internally displaced, according to the national emergency agency CONASUR.
Anger at Kabore’s failure to stem the bloodshed has risen, spilling over into clashes with the security forces.
On Saturday, police used tear gas to disperse banned rallies, arresting dozens.
In Kaya, where many displaced people have moved, residents told AFP that protesters had stormed the headquarters of the ruling People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) party.
On November 27, dozens were wounded when hundreds turned out to protest.
Among the soldiers arrested this month over the plot to “destabilise institutions” was Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana, who had been commanding anti-jihadist operations in country’s badly hit western region.