Burkina junta chief sacks defense minister as extremist violence rages

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Burkina Faso junta chief Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who took power in a January coup, has sacked his defense minister and assumed the role himself after a series of extremist attacks, according to decrees published Monday.

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The first decree, read on national television, removed General Barthelemy Simpore as defense minister, while the second said the “president has taken over the duties of the minister of national defense and veterans”.

Damiba headed a group of officers who mounted a coup on January 24, toppling elected leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who had failed to stem the extremist insurgency that first emerged in Mali in 2012.

Much of the Sahel region is now battling the insurgency after it spread to Burkina Faso in 2015, then to Niger. In recent years, the violence has also begun to spill over into West African coastal states Ivory Coast and Togo.

The mini-shuffle in Burkina Faso is the first since the appointment of a transitional government in March. At that time, Damiba chose to retain Simpore, who had been appointed by Kabore.

In another change, Colonel-Major Silas Keita was named minister delegate in charge of national defense and promoted to brigadier general. He was the only new minister introduced.

The shuffle follows a string of deadly extremist attacks this month in the landlocked West African country, where the insurgency has claimed more than 2,000 lives and forced about 1.4 million people to leave their homes.

Attacks have increased since the start of the year, despite the junta’s vow to make security its top priority.

September has been particularly bloody.

Two soldiers died and a dozen “terrorists” were killed Monday during an attack against a military detachment in Burkina Faso’s extremist-hit north, the army said.

Less than a week earlier, security sources said separate attacks by suspected extremists had killed nine people, mostly civilians, in the north.

On September 5, at least 35 civilians were killed and 37 wounded when an improvised explosive device blast struck a convoy carrying supplies between Djibo and Bourzanga.

In early September, Damiba had welcomed a “relative calm” in several locations. He said “offensive actions” by the army had been intensified and asserted that a dialog process with certain armed groups had led “dozens of youth” to lay down their arms.

But the attacks remain numerous.

More than 40 percent of the country is outside government control.

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