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Burkina junta chief heading to Mali in first foreign trip

Burkina Faso’s new military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, was heading to Mali on Wednesday for his first foreign trip since taking power on September 30, officials in both countries said.

The 34-year-old junta chief will meet his Malian counterpart, Assimi Goita, who came to power in a putsch in August 2020, they said.

“The main issue will be the fight against terrorism,” a Burkinabe official said, referring to the two countries’ bloody struggle against jihadists.

The Malian foreign ministry said Traore’s “friendship and working visit” in the capital Bamako was scheduled to last around three hours.

The two Sahel states rank among the poorest and most volatile nations in the world.

Both leaders came to power at the head of army officers angered by failures to roll back Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

Along with neighbouring Niger, the two countries have suffered thousands of fatalities and more than two million people have fled their homes.

Traore ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who in January had toppled Burkina’s last elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

Under Goita, Mali began to weave closer ties with the Kremlin, acquiring aircraft to strengthen its beleaguered armed forces and bringing in Russian “trainers”, described by Western countries as Wagner mercenaries.

As this relationship intensified, ties with Paris, Mali’s traditional ally, deteriorated and France became a target of vilification.

Paris this year pulled out the last troops it had deployed in Mali under its Barkhane anti-jihadist force in the Sahel.

The latest coup in Burkina has been marked by anti-French protests in which some demonstrators have waved Russian flags and demanded the departure of a contingent of 400 French special forces.

On Sunday, the new prime minister, Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela, hinted that Burkina may look at stronger connections with Russia, in the light of “the new deal” in security. AFP