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‘Internal crisis’ in Burkina Faso army, gunfire near presidency

The Burkina Faso government admitted an “internal crisis” within the army was behind troop deployments Friday in key areas of the capital, saying negotiations were now underway after shots rang out before dawn.

Gunfire was heard around the presidential palace and headquarters of the military junta, which itself seized power in a coup last January, witnesses told AFP.

The transitional government said the developing situation was linked to an “internal crisis in the army”, after AFP journalists saw troops block several main roads in the capital Ouagadougou.

Government spokesman Lionel Bilgo told AFP “talks are continuing to try to reach a settlement without trouble”.

“I heard heavy detonations around 4:30 am (0430 GMT) and now the roads around my home have been sealed off by military vehicles,” said a resident who lives close to the presidential palace.

During the morning more shots had rung out an AFP video journalist said in the Ouaga 2000 neighbourhood that houses both the presidential and military junta headquarters.

Bilgo said the “crisis” was based on army pay claims, and that junta leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was taking part in discussions with the men.

A government source had earlier confirmed that Damiba was “in a safe place” without giving more details.

The state television was cut for several hours, broadcasting a blank screen for several hours saying: “no video signal”.

A second government source said, “The negotiations are continuing… the soldiers are maintaining pressure through their presence at strategic points they occupied this morning” in the capital.

Soldiers were seen at the city’s main crossroads, especially in Ouaga 2000 but also outside the state television centre, an AFP journalist said.

In Brussels, the EU voiced “concern” at events in the Burkina capital.

“A military movement was observed from 04:30 this morning. The situation still remains particularly confused,” said spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.

– Rein in jihadists –

Violence has long wracked the landlocked west African country where Damiba took power in a January coup, ousting elected leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

Damiba has pledged to restore civilian rule within two years and to defeat the armed factions.

As in bordering countries, insurgents affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have stoked the unrest.

Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread into Burkina Faso, which has since become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel.

Damiba earlier this month sacked his defence minister and assumed the role himself.

The mini-shuffle, the first since the appointment of a transitional government in March, saw only one new minister introduced — Colonel-Major Silas Keita was named minister delegate in charge of national defence and promoted to brigadier general.

More than 40 percent of Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is outside government control.

Attacks have increased since mid-March, despite the junta’s vow to make security its top priority.

– Bloody September –

September has been particularly bloody.

On Monday, suspected jihadists attacked a convoy carrying supplies to the town of Djibo in the north of the country. The government said 11 soldiers died and around 50 civilians were missing.

On September 5 an improvised explosive device struck a supply convoy in the north killing 35 civilians dead and wounding 37.

The following day, at least nine people, seven civilians and two soldiers, were killed in two separate attacks by suspected jihadists.

In June, 86 civilians died in a massacre at Seytenga, near the border with Niger.

Much of the impoverished Sahel region is battling the insurgency.

Starting in northern Mali in 2012, the insurgents attacked neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015.

The violence has in recent years begun to spill over into coastal states Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin.

“The deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and Mali has made the north of the coastal countries the new front line against armed groups operating in the Sahel,” the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank, said in a report in April. AFP

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