OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - More than 60 civilians have been killed in tit-for-tat clashes between communities in northern Burkina Faso in recent days, the government said on Wednesday, the latest in a bout of inter-communal violence afflicting West Africa’s Sahel region.
Burkina and neighboring Mali have seen a spike in ethnic clashes fueled by Islamist militants as they seek to extend their influence over the Sahel, an arid region between Africa’s northern Sahara desert and its southern savannas.
Islamist attacks have risen in recent months, and the violence has reignited long-standing tensions between communities as certain groups are blamed for collaborating with the jihadists.
New violence arose near the town of Arbinda in Burkina’s Soum province on Sunday night, when a religious leader and six of his family members were killed by unidentified armed men, the ruling Movement of People for Progress (MPP) party said in a statement on Wednesday.
“On the morning of April 1st, reprisal acts were reported in the Arbinda Department. They were directed against a community following the assassination of a religious leader,” said MPP spokesman Bindi Ouoba.
The MPP statement said a royal family was also attacked in neighboring Boulgou province on Sunday night, leaving at least nine dead.
Territorial Administration Minister Simeon Sawadogo said on state TV late on Wednesday that 62 people died in the Arbinda attack.
“Thirty deaths were the result of inter-communal conflicts, and 32 people were killed by terrorists,” said Sawadogo, adding that militants had taken nine hostages.
Deteriorating security prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December, which was extended by six months after jihadists attacked civilians in Soum.
Burkina Faso, which had previously been known for its stability in a troubled region, has suffered 499 deaths from attacks on civilians between November 2018 and March 23 - a more than 7,000 percent jump from the same period a year earlier.
Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Cooney