Burkina army chief decries barbaric acts

2011-04-19 22:12

Ouagadougou - Burkina Faso's new army chief on Tuesday decried "undisciplined, even barbaric acts" by mutinous soldiers who have called off their days-long mutiny in the west African country.

General Honore Nabere Traore, named last Friday, asked his military chiefs to restore discipline in their ranks, saying the soldiers had "seriously tarnished the image of our national army".

President Blaise Campaore's presidential guard ran riot in the capital, demanding their March pay and housing and food allowances, which the authorities began to pay out on Saturday.

Soldiers took over the streets of Ouagadougou and at least three other cities, shooting and looting shops, and torching stalls and the homes of army officers and other officials, according to witnesses.

Their rampage prompted a violent counter-protest by shopkeepers in the capital on Saturday, when a hospital official said around 45 people were admitted with injuries. Rapes were also reported.

A private in the presidential guard who said he was the spokesman of the mutinous soldiers called on state television late Monday for an end to the uprising and declared loyalty to Compaore.

"We ask our comrades in arms throughout the country to end their demonstrations because we realise how much damage they do to civilians we are supposed to protect and defend," said Moussa Ag Abdoulaye.

The uprising had not been planned, he added.

People no longer need him

"We deplore the damage, the looting and the breaches of the peace of the past few days," he said, adding the army had apologised to the authorities and the military.

"We have arrested people in possession of looted objects and led them to the gendarmerie," he said, without elaborating. The television showed some items said to have been stolen, including bags of rice.

The mutiny, the most serious challenge to Compaore's 24-year-old regime, prompted him to fire his government and replace his army chief last Friday, followed Monday by the appointment of a new prime minister, Luc-Adolphe Tiao.

Tiao, 56, who has served as Burkina Faso's ambassador to former colonial power France, is the former chief editor of the state daily Sidwaye.

The opposition was sceptical that Tiao, a journalist by training, is up to the job.

"The question is whether he can resolve this crisis: I think not," leading opposition figure Benewende Sankara told AFP.

"It's not a matter of technical competence. We are in a political and structural crisis, and Blaise needs to realise that the people no longer need him."

On Tuesday, the national assembly, which counts 111 lawmakers of whom 74 are from the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), suspended its work pending the formation of the new government.

Students protesting

The new leadership will be tasked with calming popular discontent that has been simmering since February and boiled over late last week with a massive protest in Ouagadougou and a mutiny even by the presidential guard.

Violent unrest that had spread to several towns had subsided by late Monday, though soldiers opened fire "for a little while" in Gorom-Gorom in the far north overnight, residents told AFP.

Calm seems to have returned to the capital, where a curfew remains in effect, as well as to southern Po, Tenkodogo in the east and northern Kaya where mutinous soldiers shot into the air and looted shops.

In western Koudougou, protesting students on Monday burnt down the headquarters of the ruling party, a residence of dismissed prime minister Tertius Zongo and the home of the headmaster.

Their demonstration followed others over the past two months to protest the February death of a student in police custody: his classmates say he was killed by police but authorities say he had contracted meningitis.

Six people have died in the students' protests and about 50 have been hurt.