OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Burkina Faso’s new junta leader Capt. Ibrahim Traore said the West African nation would still aim to hold elections by 2024 or even earlier, as regional mediators headed to the country after its second coup this year.
The power grab is the latest setback for the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which has tried to steer three of its 15 countries back toward democracy after a spate of coups in West Africa over the last two years.
Burkina Faso's coup, announced Friday on state television, has raised fears that the country's political chaos could deepen the region's Islamic extremist violence, diverting the military's attention from the crisis.
ECOWAS had reached an agreement with ousted leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba to hold a new vote by July 2024. Damiba, who himself had seized power in a coup early this year, agreed to resign Sunday and left for the neighboring nation of Togo.
In an interview with Radio France Internationale aired on Monday, Traore said the goal of elections by July 2024 is still possible.
“We hope that the return to normal constitutional order will take place even before that date, if the situation allows it,” he told RFI. “So, our wish is that it can be done before 2024.”
Burkina Faso's last democratically elected president was overthrown by Damiba in January amid frustration that his government had not been able to stop extremist attacks. But the jihadi violence, which has killed thousands and forced 2 million to flee their homes, continued and has now brought an end to Damiba's tenure, too.
The new leader told journalists in interviews over the weekend that conditions remained poor for soldiers in the field. Damiba had not done enough to improve that situation, Traore said.
“I go on patrol with my men and we don’t have the basic logistics,” he told Voice of America. “In some villages, the trees don’t have leaves because people eat the leaves. They eat weeds. We've proposed solutions that will enable us to protect these people, but we are not listened to. We made so many proposals.”
In recent days, Traore's followers have waved Russian flags and called for military support to help fight the jihadis, as neighboring Mali has done with Russia's Wagner Group. However, those Russian mercenary forces have been accused of human rights abuses and some fear their involvement in Burkina Faso would only make things worse.
It remains to be seen whether Traore and his forces can turn around the crisis as international condemnation of the new coup mounts. The political chaos erupted into unrest over the weekend as protesters attacked the French Embassy in the capital and several other buildings associated with France around the country.
The violence came after a junta representative said on state television that Damiba had sought refuge at a French military base in Burkina Faso. France vehemently denied the allegation and any involvement in the unfolding events.
The 4,000 French citizens registered in Burkina Faso are urged to stay at their homes, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said.
“The situation is very volatile in Burkina Faso," she told The Associated Press on Sunday in Paris. “There have been serious violations of the security of our diplomatic presence. Unacceptable violations that we condemn.”
Mednick reported from Barcelona. Associated Press journalists Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal and Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed.