OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, June 07 (IPS) – On the night of Friday June 4, a group of unidentified armed men stormed the village of Solhan in northern Burkina Faso, shooting indiscriminately, looting the market and burning houses. A report from RFI, the French radio station said there could have been as many as 200 attackers according to some testimonies from survivors.
Security sources confirmed that children were being targeted, with 7 minors killed according to official figures. Now the total death toll stands at at least 160 – a massacre.
The extent of the carnage is still unknown as the number of dead and injured continues to rise. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Heni Nsaibia, senior analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, stressed: “The Solhan massacre is the deadliest attack on record in Burkina Faso. The only event comparable to this scale was the Yirgou massacre in January 2019. ”
The attack marks a recent spike in violence after a period of declining attacks from March 2021, in part sparked by negotiations between the government and armed groups that have plagued Burkina Faso since 2015.
The government of Burkina Faso is fighting armed groups, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), the local affiliate of Al Qaeda, with the helps French and American troops, but struggles to contain the violence.
On May 17, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cherif Sy, visited Sebba, the town closest to Solhan. He told reporters: “We can say that the situation is favorable and that peace has returned to Sebba”.
On Saturday, Sebba hospital was overwhelmed by victims of the Solhan attacks.
In May, some Twitter users complained that such rhetoric could lead to reprisals from terrorist groups, while others called for Sy’s resignation on Sunday. Analysts said the attack was a show of force by terrorist groups.
Lassane Sawadogo, executive secretary of the ruling Popular Movement for Progress party, admits that more needs to be done to stem the violence. He told IPS: “We are facing the phenomenon of insecurity which is observed over a large part of our territory. Since then, efforts have been made to overcome this phenomenon. But it is clear that these efforts are not bearing the expected fruits.
The attack was carefully planned and coordinated. The armed group carried out a simultaneous attack on the nearby military base and placed IEDs on the road between it and Solhan in order to prevent the security forces from reacting to the massacre.
Mahamadou Sawadogo is a Burkinabe security analyst and former military police officer. He says the tactics used give clues as to which group carried out the attack. “Depending on the modus operandi, this might lead us to believe that it is ISGS. But it is also an area of influence of JNIM,” he told IPS.
Sawadogo says he believes the attack is linked to the recruitment of Homeland Defense Volunteers, a civilian militia created by the government in 2020 to assist the military in operations.
“Through this attack, the other message is that the VDPs have become a target group of these terrorist groups. This attack was in part done to discourage the VDPs, so that they do not continue to enlist and help. “said Sawadogo.
Solhan, is also the site of an informal gold mine that terrorist groups frequently exploit for financing. A large number of children frequently work at the sites.
On Sunday, fake news of further attacks in the vicinity of Solhan and beyond began to spread on social media and local media. The military were forced to issue a statement denying the attacks, while the editor of a local radio station owned by Burkina Faso’s foreign minister was sacked for spreading false information.
Apart from a statement on Twitter, President Roch Kaboré has not yet spoken publicly about the attack. Three days of public mourning have been declared.
The humanitarian fallout from the attack is also likely to be significant, displacing families fleeing the violence. 1.2 million people are already displaced in Burkina Faso.
A statement from the Norweigan Refugee Council said: “While every attack is measured by its death toll, there are more elusive numbers to keep in mind: the number of families forced to flee in haste, or the number of weeks, of months and years that they will spend away from home. And let’s not forget what cannot be quantified at all: the trauma of children witnessing such horrific violence.
As three days of national mourning have been declared, the streets of Ouagadougou have taken on a somber atmosphere. Citizens have prayed for the families of the victims, but will no doubt wonder what will happen next as security continues to deteriorate.
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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service