The recently appointed army chief in Burkina Faso, Gen. Nabere Honore Traore, has said that the new government will work to resolve the issues behind the military unrest that has plagued the impoverished West African country since last week. The Army Chief made the statement during a transfer-of-power ceremony that the government will resolve the crisis through dialogue. Traore said President Blaise Compaore “has responded favorably to the complaints of the soldiers,” he said, adding that officials will meet with soldiers. An elite group of soldiers also announced late Monday that they want their colleagues to stop protesting. They also apologized for the unrest. ”We invite our brothers in arms around the country to stop the protests because we now see the damage that can be caused within the civilian population, which we are well advised to protect and defend,” said a member of the group, Moussa Ag Abdoulaye.
The mutiny began Thursday night in Ouagadougou, the capital, when members of the presidential guard began firing into the air, demanding unpaid housing allowances. By Monday, soldiers in several cities north, south, east and west of the capital had joined in. Calm returned to the capital after soldiers there got paid. Compaore on Friday had dissolved the government amid the uprisings, and later appointed new security chiefs. Late Monday he announced a new prime minister, Luc Adolphe Tiao, a longtime ally of the president who is the country’s current ambassador to France. This year’s uprisings started in late February when students protested a young man’s death in custody. The government said he had meningitis, but accusations of mistreatment fueled protests in which at least six people died and buildings were torched.
On Monday, the unrest spiraled back to students who burned more buildings down in Koudougou, the same town that was the epicenter of the earlier protests. Experts say hostilities in the landlocked country have been simmering for a long time. The former U.S. ambassador to the country, David Shinn, said it is likely the early protests by students were inspired by developments in Tunisia and other north African countries that have seen regime changes. Shinn said the last time Compaore faced such uprisings was after the killing of Norbert Zongo, the publisher of a popular weekly. Zongo died on Dec. 13, 1998, in a mysterious car fire while investigating the torture and killing of the chauffeur for Compaore’s younger brother, Francois. His killing was never solved. The journalist’s death touched off violent strikes and street demonstrations.
The escalating cost of living is at the root of the current unrest, said Cema Blegne, who works for the National Syndicate of African Teachers of Burkina Faso, a group that protested food prices and impunity on April 8 and again last week. Burkina Faso is near the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which measures general well-being, ranked 161 out of 169 nations. It has high rates of unemployment and illiteracy. Most people get by on subsistence agriculture. Soldiers, many of whom have families to support, have been frustrated that their own payments have been late, or stolen. Compaore, a former army captain, came to power in a 1987 coup in which Burkina Faso’s first president, Thomas Sankara, was killed. Since the coup, Compaore has won several elections that lacked transparency. He was re-elected again in November. The opposition said the vote was rigged.
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