Gunmen kill three Burkina Faso gendarmes near Mali border

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Around 50 unidentified gunmen attacked a Burkina Faso gendarmerie brigade near the country’s western border with Mali on Friday, killing three in an attack the government blamed on the leaders of a failed coup last month.

The attack, in which one gunman died, initially appeared linked to a separatist conflict in northern Mali that involves Islamist militants. There has been a spate of attacks this year in other parts of Mali.

“At around 4 a.m. about 50 as of yet unidentified armed men coming from the western borders of Burkina attacked the gendarmerie brigade of Samorogouan,” brigade general Pingrenoma Zagre said in a statement.

Samorogouan is around 500 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and around 50 km east of the border with Mali.

It is the first attack of its kind in that part of the country. A previous assault along Burkina Faso’s northern border with Mali killed one gendarme in August.

The government later linked the attack to a one-week putsch by General Gilbert Diendere and presidential guard soldiers that started on Sept. 16 when they took the president and prime minister hostage less than a month before elections.

A court in Burkina Faso on Tuesday charged Diendere and a former foreign minister with crimes including murder and colluding with foreign forces to threaten state security.

“The government recalls that at the height of the (coup) crisis, it drew the public’s attention to the mobilization of foreign forces and Jihadists that the putschists had called to come to their rescue,” the government said in a statement.

“All information obtained points to a continuation of this plan to destabilize the political transition,” it said.

At least 11 people were killed as the presidential guard crushed protests against their actions. Burkina Faso is due to hold presidential and general elections on Sunday, though the vote may be delayed.

The election is meant to restore democratic rule a year after mass demonstrations forced President Blaise Compaore from power as he sought to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.

Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou and Nadoun Coulibaly; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Leslie Adler