Burkina sacks hundreds of soldiers over unrest

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Burkina Faso announced yesterday that it had dismissed 566 soldiers accused of involvement in a wave of mutinies and pillaging in the West African country between March and June.

The troubles were part of wider unrest that has hit the usually placid cotton- and gold-producing nation since President Blaise Compaore extended his 24-year rule with a landslide November poll win which rivals said was not credible.

Army chief of staff General Nabere Honore Traore told a news conference the soldiers’ contracts had been annulled for inciting public disorder and failing to respect military duties. He said 217 of them faced legal action.

Rising food prices and frustration at the slow pace of economic reform during Compaore’s rule have prompted street protests by students and others, while soldiers including Compaore’s own presidential guard have complained about pay.

Witnesses in the capital Ouagadougou and other towns said soldiers have looted shops and hijacked vehicles, sparking protests from shopkeepers angry at the government’s failure to rein the mutinous soldiers in.

At the beginning of June, seven people, including six soldiers, were killed and 33 injured when government troops crushed a mutiny in a military camp in Bobo Dioulasso, 350 km from the Burkina Faso capital.

Soldiers loyal to Compaore were ordered to attack the mutineers to stamp out a wave of protests in Bobo Dioulasso, the country’s economic capital, witnesses said. The minister said 25 civilians and eight soldiers were injured in the fighting and 57 mutinous soldiers were arrested.

In mid-April, soldiers fired their weapons near the presidential palace following a series of protests by the army.

Analysts say the protests add up to one of the most serious challenges to Compaore’s rule but note that there has been now coherent national movement along the lines of the “Arab Spring” uprisings that ousted leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.