More than 200 protesters in Burkina Faso gathered on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday, aiming to intercept a French military convoy that was trying to reach neighboring Niger from the nearby city of Kaya. French forces are in the area as part of the fight against Islamic militants. Many Burkinabe, however, are upset by France’s role and have directed their anger at the French army.
Protesters blocked the convoy in Kaya, 97 kilometers north of the capital, from Thursday to Saturday last week.
A French Defense Ministry official told VOA on Sunday that the convoy was regular and the 32nd convoy of its kind headed to Niamey, Niger, with supplies for troops.
Protesters said they believed the convoy was carrying weapons to prop up terrorist groups spread across Burkina Faso, which have killed thousands of civilians and security forces over the past six years. Security has deteriorated sharply in recent months, but there is no evidence to support the protesters’ claim.
On Saturday night, it was reported that the convoy had left Kaya when it was driven out by protesters there, but it was not clear whether it was heading towards Ouagadougou.
Cell phone Internet access has also been cut from 10 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to netblocks.org, a watchdog group that tracks Internet shutdowns. This may further indicate an attempt by the government to suppress street protests.
However, the protesters arranged for wooden pallets and tires on the road leading from Kaya to the capital and were unfurling the Burkinabe flag. The atmosphere was tense, with protesters demanding to know if the journalists were working for a French media outlet.
One protester, who declined to be named, spoke to the VOA.
“We are prepared to burn any French material that passes through,” he said. We no longer need France in this country. That’s our wish.”
Another wanted to know where did the weapons of the jihadis come from.
Where do jihadis get weapons? It is from French. So we have stopped the convoy at Kaya. They opened fire on us yesterday and three people were injured. We were there yesterday, and today we are back again to stop the convoy.”
Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reports that France has asked Burkinabe President Roch Cabore to intervene to resolve the situation involving the convoy. According to Reuters, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French television that “manipulators” were behind the anti-French sentiment, but he expected a solution.
On Saturday, Burkinabe security forces in Kaya used tear gas to disperse a crowd gathered near a fenced compound where the convoy was parked. French defense officials say French soldiers fired warning shots in the air when protesters tried to cut the fence. A French defense official says there is no way that French soldiers shot and wounded three people and that the incident will not be investigated. Joe Penney, co-founder of Sahelian.com, a news website focused on the Sahel region, says it is not at all unusual for soldiers to fire into the air to disperse crowds, but added that very rarely. It happens that so many people get injured.
“The fact that people were shot in the leg raises questions for me as well and for me there should be a formal investigation,” Penny said.
No security forces were involved in the first protests on Sunday morning, but a Burkinabe government official told VOA that efforts were underway to reopen the streets. However, the spokesperson did not address the issues surrounding Internet access.
“With regard to the Internet, I don’t know if it’s a question of technical problems,” the spokesperson said.
By Sunday evening, police had dispersed the protesters with tear gas shells and traffic was able to move freely on the road again.