OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Burkina Faso’s ruling junta says it will create two military zones where civilians must vacate their homes to allow the army to battle jihadi rebels without any hindrances.
The two zones will be established in the country's hard-hit East and Sahel regions and the ministry of defense will form a new brigade to unite all security forces, said a statement by the military's National Operations Command.
“Any human presence or activity is forbidden in these areas at the risk of exposing oneself to the effects of the military operations that will be carried out there. Resident populations will be given time to move to more secure areas,” said the statement. It did not specify the deadline by which civilians had to leave.
The move is the latest attempt by Burkina Faso's military junta to secure the West African country amid escalating attacks by jihadi rebels linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
In January, mutinous soldiers ousted the democratically elected president, saying they could do a better job at securing the nation. But five months into their rule the situation is deteriorating. Earlier this month jihadis killed at least 80 people in Seytenga in the Sahel region’s Seno province, one of the deadliest attacks on civilians since last year when at least 160 people were killed in Solhan.
The junta's decision to create the military zones is a desperate measure to try to control a bad situation that is getting worse, according to conflict analysts.
“Basically the authorities are telling the population in these areas that security forces are no longer responsible for their protection and they must leave. This decision is going to cause further displacement with no concrete plans in place for them on where to go and where to seek shelter, food, and protection,” Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Moroccan-based organization focused on economics and policy, told The Associated Press.
Years of violence have created a dire humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso, forcing nearly 2 million people from their homes and pushing tens of thousands to the brink of starvation. While coup leader Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was welcomed when he seized power, patience among the population is waning.
Damiba has recently tried to project an image of national unity. This week he met with two former presidents, Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who was ousted in the January coup and has since been under house arrest. The meeting was intended as a call for national unity and social cohesion and is the start of a series of actions to try to ease political tensions, according to a government statement on Facebook.
Reactions in the capital to the announcement of the military zones have been mixed.
“The terrorists melt into civilians making the military operations hard. So having populations leave will help circumscribe the operation zones ... We salute the decision of the authorities (and after) liberating the zones, civilians will go back to their villages and live peacefully,” said Mamadou Drabo, president of Save Burkina, a civic group.
Others are less optimistic. “This will lead to an increase in the number of internally displaced people, which already stands at nearly 2 million throughout the country. There is therefore likely to be a great deal of humanitarian pressure on the areas already hosting (displaced people) and many other areas,” said Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights.
“This could be difficult to manage, given the weakness or total absence of government services in many parts of the country,” he said.