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Ambush on convoy kills 37 in Burkina Faso

China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-08 09:58
A views shows the exterior of a hospital in Ouagadougou, where some of the wounded were taken for treatment, after an ambush on workers near a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso, Nov 7, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Deadliest attack in five years underscores rapidly deteriorating security situation

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso - An ambush on a convoy transporting employees of a Canadian mining company in Burkina Faso killed 37 people on Wednesday, the deadliest attack in nearly five years of extremist violence in the West African country.

The impoverished Sahel country has been struggling to quell a rising extremist revolt that has claimed hundreds of lives since early 2015.

On Wednesday morning, "unidentified armed individuals" ambushed five buses carrying local employees, contractors and suppliers of the mining company Semafo Inc, said Saidou Sanou, the governor of the country's Est region.

As well as the 37 civilians killed, 60 were wounded, he added.

That toll does not include an unknown number of the security forces who may have been killed in the attack. The toll was likely to rise as there are a large number of people still unaccounted for, according to a local security source.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but extremists have staged dozens of attacks on churches and public officials across the north of Burkina Faso in the past few years.

Sylvain Leclerc, spokeswoman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry, said there were no reports of Canadian citizens among the casualties. She added that the Canadian government condemns the attack and supports efforts to bring peace to Burkina Faso.

In a statement, mine owner Semafo said the five buses being escorted by the military were approximately 40 kilometers from the Boungou gold mine in Tapoa Province when they were ambushed.

A security source said "a military vehicle that was escorting the convoy hit an explosive device".

"Two buses carrying workers were then fired upon," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Burkina Faso's government said the gunmen had conducted a "complex attack", adding that defense and security forces had launched a relief operation and were searching the area.

It was the third deadly attack on Canadian firm Semafo, which operates two mines in Burkina Faso, in 15 months.

"We are actively working with all levels of authorities to ensure the ongoing safety and security of our employees, contractors and suppliers," Semafo said in a statement, offering condolences to the families of the victims.

The mine itself, it added, remains secure and its operations had not been affected.

Two attacks on convoys carrying Boungou mine employees in August and December last year killed 11 people.

The company blamed "armed bandits" for last year's attacks, and subsequently reinforced its armed escorts.

The Burkina Faso government this year asked mining companies to make their own arrangements to transport their employees, according to sources close to the miners.

Burkina Faso's northern provinces have been battling a nearly five-year wave of extremist violence that originates from neighboring Mali.

The attacks - typically hit-and-run raids on villages, road mines and suicide bombings - have claimed nearly 700 lives across the country since early 2015, according to an AFP count. Almost 500,000 people have also been forced to flee their homes.

The attacks have been claimed by a range of extremist groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Afflicted by violence

The country's badly equipped, poorly trained and underfunded security forces have been unable to stem the violence, which has intensified throughout 2019 to become almost daily.

The Sahel region, including Burkina Faso's neighbors Mali and Niger, has been afflicted by the violence despite the presence of the regional G5 Sahel force as well as troops from France and the United States.

Burkina Faso's previous deadliest attack was in January 2016, when extremists raided the Splendid Hotel and a cafe in the capital Ouagadougou, killing 30 people, around half of them foreign nationals.

In August this year, the army suffered its worst attack with 24 soldiers killed in an assault on a base in Koutougou, near the Mali border.

On Monday, an attack on a base in northern Burkina Faso killed at least five armed police officers and five civilians.

The country serves as a southern gateway into coastal West Africa, and regional leaders worry the extremists could be moving into Togo and Benin.

Agencies

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