Burkina Faso army troops stand guard outside Guillaume Ouedraogo military camp in Ouagadougou on September 22, 2015
OUAGADOUGOU – West African heads of state on Tuesday sought to end a tense stand-off between coup leaders and the army in Burkina Faso, announcing a new peace mission to the troubled nation and a call for non-violence.
The appeal came as the putschists and the army exchanged threats a day after troops entered the capital city Ouagadougou to put pressure on the elite forces that staged a coup last Wednesday.
Marathon talks which were supposed to yield a deal Tuesday night at a summit in Nigeria’s Abuja now appear not to have yet garnered a consensus.
ECOWAS Commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said a new delegation would be sent Wednesday “to reestablish Michel Kafando in his function as president of the transition.”
The trip aimed to “initiate a political dialogue among all stakeholders with a view to finding concessional solutions” to the peace plan proposed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and his Benin counterpart Thomas Boni Yayi.
The delegation will come from Nigeria, Niger, Togo, Ghana, Benin and Senegal, Ouedraogo said, reading a final communique from the meeting.
Burkina Faso’s crisis began when the elite presidential guard (RSP) last Wednesday detained the interim leaders who had been running the country since a popular uprising deposed iron-fisted president Blaise Compaore last October.
The powerful unit of 1,300 men loyal to Compaore officially declared a coup Thursday and installed General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s former chief of staff, as the country’s new leader.
– ‘Shameful’ –
The putsch came just weeks ahead of an election planned for October 11, with at least 10 people killed and more than 100 injured in the resulting unrest.
A round of talks mediated by Sall focused on returning power to the interim government while granting the putschists an amnesty in return.
The proposed deal would also have allowed for pro-Compaore candidates to take part after they complained about being excluded from the October vote.
But the proposal was met with widespread scepticism before any final draft ever saw the light.
Speaking to France’s RFI radio, Kafando had warned he had “serious reservations” about the proposal, adding that he had not been invited to the talks in the Nigerian capital.
Residents too were furious at the suggestion of an amnesty for the coup ringleaders.
“We don’t trust ECOWAS anymore. We want to get out there and take our destiny in our hands,” said office worker Adama Traore.
“The bodies are not even buried and (they want) an amnesty. We shall barricade everything.”
Civil society activists behind the uprising that toppled Compaore have also condemned the ECOWAS proposals, with the main Balai Citoyen (Civic Broom) group branding the deal “shameful”.
– Flexing their muscles –
Burkina Faso’s military meanwhile warned coup leader Diendere it has the means to attack his elite forces.
Diendere, whose RSP unit had earlier freed the interim president and prime minister, warned his men would defend themselves if the army attacked them.
“The national armed forces who arrived yesterday in Ouagadougou could have attacked the… RSP from the moment they entered, and they have the capacity and the means to do so,” the army chiefs said in a statement.
“We do not want to fight but ultimately we will defend ourselves,” Diendere warned.
On Monday night, cheering crowds greeted the regular army units as they marched to the capital to put pressure on Diendere to surrender.
This show of strength was the first public stance by the 11,000-strong army since last week’s coup by the RSP.
– ‘Patience’ –
ECOWAS’s Ouedraogo called on the putschists to disarm, while urging the army not to use force.
“They have also called on all the stakeholders to exercise patience and refrain from anything that can derail the national consensus,” he said.
Military and humanitarian observers from member states would be sent to Burkina Faso “to monitor respect for human rights”, he added.
Coup leader Diendere had earlier said an RSP soldier had been killed in a shooting at a checkpoint, and another injured, but stressed the incident had not been a confrontation between the coup forces and regular troops.
“We do not want to shed any blood to stay in power. There is no point in spilling blood or causing massacres,” Diendere said.
The coup has sparked global condemnation, with former colonial power France urging the leaders to surrender.