Burkina faso coup leader in talks with diplomats on handing himself in: govt

Gilbert Diendere

Gilbert Diendere

The leader of a failed coup in Burkina Faso was in talks Wednesday on handing himself in to the government that his elite force tried to unseat, after troops stormed the putschists’ barracks.

The negotiations on General Gilbert Diendere’s surrender were taking place at an unnamed diplomatic mission in Ouagadougou, according to a statement by the interim government, and came as the EU urged speedy elections.

Tuesday night’s raid saw troops in the capital Ouagadougou firing heavy weaponry at the barracks of the elite presidential guard (RSP) who staged an abortive coup on September 17.

Although the unit formally abandoned their coup efforts last week — allowing the interim leadership to resume office — they refused to disarm under the terms of a peace deal, creating fresh tension with the military which came to a head late on Tuesday.

By Wednesday afternoon, it was still unclear if anyone had been killed or wounded in the assault.

The European Union hailed the end of the standoff, urging the government to quickly hold elections.

“The end of the clashes is an important step towards normalising the situation in Burkina Faso,” the EU’s foreign affairs arm said in a statement.

“The first task now is to organise as quickly as possible, credible, transparent and free elections,” it added.

The attempted coup took place just weeks before the landlocked west African nation was to hold its first presidential and legislative elections since veteran strongman Blaise Compaore was ousted in October 2014.

The first round of voting was to have taken place on October 11, although officials have since said there will be a delay of several weeks due to the crisis.

– ‘No bodies’ –

Speaking to AFP as the drama played out, coup leader Diendere said it was likely there were “many deaths and injuries”. He said there were often families inside the complex which also houses a clinic.

But a soldier who entered the camp on Wednesday morning told AFP he had not seen any evidence that people had been killed.

“I have not see any bodies,” he said.

Chief of Staff General Pingrenoma Zagre said late Tuesday that the camp was largely empty at the time of the assault.

Diendere, Compaore’s former chief of staff, told AFP he was ready to face justice, saying he was “at the disposal of my country’s judiciary.”

By Wednesday morning, many soldiers had fanned out on the streets of the capital’s Ouaga 2000 district, where the presidency and the RSP’s sprawling military barracks are located.

Marksmen could be seen in position, their weapons pointed towards open areas as they scanned the horizon for missing guards from the elite unit which counts 1,300 men.

“We are looking for members (of the RSP). Some of them are hiding,” one of the soldiers told AFP as he blocked access to the neighbourhood.

Elsewhere in the city life appeared to be regaining some semblance of normalcy, with many venturing out onto the streets on mopeds, the most popular form of transport in Ouagadougou.

And hoards of workers could be seen having breakfast in roadside taverns.

– ‘We won’ –

“We’re proud. We were the ones who won. There was no need for talking, just to attack (the RSP),” a driver called Momune Sigue told AFP.

“Now we want elections and Diendere must be tried,” said this father of two.

There was no word on the fate of those who had been inside the barracks during the raid during which troops opened fire with heavy weapons, sending clouds of dust rising into the air.

Ahead of the assault, Ouagadougou airport was closed as troops locked down the area, deploying armoured cars and pickup trucks throughout the neighbourhood and stationing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at several intersections.

Troops also arrested Djibril Bassole, ahead of the raid, “in connection with the coup”. He had served as foreign minister under Compoare and had been expected to run in the presidential elections, military and security sources told AFP.

One of the coup plotters’ main demands had been that the transitional leadership lift a ban on Compaore’s allies and supporters running in the elections.

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