Burkina coup leaders warn they will hit back if attacked

Patrick Fort, Romaric Ollo Hien
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Burkina Faso soldiers stand guard outside the Guillaume Ouedraogo barracks in Ouagadougou on September 22, 2015

Burkina Faso soldiers stand guard outside the Guillaume Ouedraogo barracks in Ouagadougou on September 22, 2015 (AFP Photo/Sia Kambou)

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Burkina Faso's coup leader said Tuesday he would abide by a deal reached with top African mediators, but warned his men would defend themselves if attacked after the army entered the capital.

General Gilbert Diendere, whose elite army unit freed the interim president and prime minister on Tuesday, called for troops who entered the capital Ouagadougou overnight, seeking a surrender by the putschists, to leave the city.

"We do not want to fight but ultimately we will defend ourselves," Diendere warned, nearly a week after his men detained the interim leaders who had been running the country since a popular uprising deposed iron-fisted president Blaise Compaore last October.

The powerful Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), a unit of 1,300 men loyal to Compaore, officially declared a coup Thursday and installed Diendere, Compaore's former chief of staff, as the country's new leader.

The putsch plunged the impoverished west African country into chaos 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.

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.

"We must now secure the surrender of the (coup leaders) without gunfire or bloodshed," Colonel Serge Alain Ouedraogo, the country's deputy police chief, told AFP.

- Global condemnation -

Diendere has agreed to hand over power under a deal reached with the regional ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) group, and vowed to abide by whatever the bloc decides at an emergency summit in Nigeria's capital Abuja later Tuesday.

ECOWAS mediators, led by Senegalese President Macky Sall and Benin's leader Thomas Boni Yayi, have proposed a return of interim president Michel Kafando, along with an amnesty for the putschists.

Diendere did not give a definitive date for his departure, saying: "The date will be determined by ECOWAS, it's not for us to determine."

Both Kafando and interim prime minister Michel Zida have been freed -- Kafando heading to the French embassy, and Zida to his residence.

The coup leader meanwhile said "discussions were underway" with the regular troops who have descended on the capital, but warned that his own forces would defend themselves if attacked.

He 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.

French President Francois Hollande demanded "all those involved in the putsch to immediately lay down their arms and hand over power to the legitimate authorities -- or face the consequences."

- 'Serious reservations' -

Negotiators led by Sall on Sunday announced a 12-point plan to end the crisis after three days of talks with the different sides.

The deal plans for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by November 22, and crucially allows for pro-Compaore candidates to take part after they complained about being excluded from the October vote.

ECOWAS mediators said the fate of the RSP should be decided by a future Burkinabe leader.

They also proposed an amnesty for those behind the coup -- a suggestion that has sparked widespread anger on the streets.

But Kafando told France's RFI radio he had "serious reservations" about the accord and was sceptical that any solution would be achieved during Tuesday's emergency ECOWAS summit.

He was not invited to the talks in the Nigerian capital, he added.

- 'Shameful' amnesty proposal -

Calm returned to Ouagadougou on Tuesday after days of unrest. Revolution Square, the epicentre of last year's uprising against Compaore, was empty by the afternoon after hundreds of people took to the streets to welcome the army's deployment.

Residents were critical of the ECOWAS proposal and 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".