Burkina coup plotters abandon barracks after army assault

2015-09-30 08:44
General Gilbert Diendere. (File: AFP)

General Gilbert Diendere. (File: AFP)

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Ouagadougou - Soldiers who staged a short-lived coup in Burkina Faso abandoned their barracks in the capital late on Tuesday after a tense standoff with loyalist troops, the military said, as authorities battled to regain control of the crisis-hit country.

Coup leader General Gilbert Diendere told AFP he feared there had been many deaths from the assault on the sprawling military base, which is next to the presidential palace in Ouagadougou.

The army "fired artillery", Diendere told AFP, adding that there had been families and a clinic inside the barracks.

"There must have been many deaths and injuries."

It was not immediately clear how many people died.

The army launched an assault on the barracks of the elite presidential guard (RSP) after the putschists, who support deposed leader Blaise Compaore, refused to give up their weapons in line with a peace deal mediated by regional powers.

Heavy weapons

After the army fired on the barracks with heavy weapons, and as their leader pleaded with his men to lay down their arms to "avoid a bloodbath", the crack troops behind the September 17 coup stood down, the military said.

"The situation is calm. An assault was carried out; there was no confrontation," said General Pingrenoma Zagre, the Burkinabe army's chief of staff.

Military sources said troops were continuing to comb the barracks into the night.

The government issued a statement hailing the "liberation" of RSP camps by "our valiant defence and security forces," urging the public to now work together to boost national unity.

The military had warned earlier that it was giving the coup plotters "a last chance to surrender." Heavy weapons fire sent dust rising into the sky above the barracks.

Diendere had urged his men to stand down, with Omega radio quoting him as saying: "I am asking elements of the RSP to lay down their arms to avoid a bloodbath."

In an interview, the general said he was ready to face justice, saying he was "at the disposal of my country's judiciary."

The coup leader added that he was no longer at the barracks, without giving details.

Ouagadougou airport was closed as troops locked down the area around the barracks of the RSP, ratcheting up the pressure on them to stand down.

Troops had deployed around the barracks with armoured cars and pickup trucks on Tuesday morning as tensions escalated, with soldiers equipped with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stationed at several intersections.

Presidential hopeful arrested

The RSP had detained interim president Michel Kafando and prime minister Isaac Zida on September 16 and installed Diendere, Compaore's former chief of staff, as the new leader.

But following nearly a week of international pressure, the putschists gave up, accepting a peace deal brokered by the Ecowas west African regional bloc under which the interim leadership would return, and the coup plotters would stand down with their safety and that of their families guaranteed.

Troops arrested Djibril Bassole, who served as foreign minister under Compaore and had been expected to run in presidential elections that had been slated to take place on October 11, sources said.

A security source said the arrest was "in connection with the coup," with a military source confirming the information.

The government had accused Diendere of seeking to mobilise "foreign troops and jihadists" to help him.

Despite the lockdown, life in the capital had by Tuesday morning regained some sense of normalcy after a call on Saturday for a general strike was suspended.

Even so, the education minister decided to delay the start of the new school year by a week to October 8.

The government had on Monday accused the RSP of a string of offences, including taking soldiers hostage and holding back RSP troops "wanting to join the voice of reason."

And the chief of staff said the peace deal had hit an "impasse" over the guards' refusal to "follow the disarmament by creating incidents and attacking personnel charged with this mission."

'Safety pledge ignored'

An RSP source told AFP that the process of disarming had been held up because a government pledge to ensure the safety of the putschists and their families was not being respected.

The peace deal also called on troops who had converged on Ouagadougou to withdraw 50km from the city, but they had not done so, he added.

At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured in protests triggered by the coup, which came just weeks before the first elections scheduled to be held since Compaore's 2014 ouster after 27 years of iron-fisted rule.

The African Union lifted a suspension of Burkina Faso as well as a travel ban and asset freeze on junta leaders, but warned that they would be reinstated if the RSP "tries to hold up the transition process."

According to the government, the coup has cost the poor West African country 50 billion CFA francs ($84m).

Read more on:    isaac zida  |  michel kafando  |  blaise compaore  |  gilbert diendere  |  burkina faso  |  west africa

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