Army officers who took power in Burkina Faso said that ousted military leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”
One day after officials overthrew the man who had taken power in a coup just nine months earlier, gunfire rang out in the capital Ouagadougou on Saturday amid ongoing tensions.
“It is assumed that [Damiba] has sought refuge in Cambodia’s French base to plan a counteroffensive to create problems with our defense and security forces,” the putschmakers said in a statement read out on national television and by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the new leader of the country, has been signed.
France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied the allegation. An hour before the military’s televised commentaries, the French embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”
The embassy also denied “rumors that the Burkinabe authorities have been taken in or are under the protection of the French military.”
In a statement posted on the presidency’s official Facebook page, Damiba urged his rivals to “come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need.”
Angry demonstrators attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou late Saturday. Videos on social media showed residents with flaming torches outside the perimeter and other images showed part of the compound that was on fire.
In Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, angry crowds also destroyed the French Institute.
Traore was previously head of a special unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya. Meanwhile, Damiba’s whereabouts remain unknown.
The Chief of Staff of the Burkina Faso Army called on opposing factions to cease hostilities and continue talks, calling the situation an “internal crisis within the national armed forces.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the seizure of power and called on “all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” his spokesperson said in a statement.
“Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to combat terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” it said.
Damiba came to power in January as a result of a coup d’état. He stood up as the leader of the country of 16 million after accusing President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to repel armed groups.
Most of the Sahel region is struggling with growing rebellion, the violence has led to a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.
France has a military presence in Burkina Faso with a contingent of special forces in Cambodia, 30 km (19 miles) from Ouagadougou.
The situation in Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday. Helicopters were hovering over the city and shops that were open for business in the morning closed their doors.
The European Union and the African Union (AU) have added their voice to a chorus of worldwide condemnation of the second coup this year in the deeply poor and troubled West African country.
“The chairman calls on the military to immediately and completely refrain from any acts of violence or threats to the civilian population, civil liberties and human rights,” the AU said in a statement.
The junior officers who overthrew Damiba said he had failed to prevent attacks by armed groups in the country.
On Friday, gunfire broke out around the presidential palace before dawn. Within a few hours, a dozen tired soldiers appeared on state television and radio stations to announce Damiba’s removal.
The new heads of state and government quickly suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the interim government and the legislative assembly, and imposed a curfew from 9 to 5 o’clock in the morning.