Another twist in Burkina: Army chiefs order coup soldiers to 'lay down arms', as troops close in on capital

The national armed forces are converging on Ouagadougou from the provinces to disarm the presidential guard.

BURKINA Faso’s army chiefs Monday issued a statement ordering coup soldiers to lay down their arms as troops headed for the capital Ouagadougou from the provinces.

“All the national armed forces are converging on Ouagadougou with the sole aim of disarming the presidential guard (RSP) without any bloodshed,” a statement said. “We ask them to lay down their arms.”

Normal life slowly picked up Monday in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, five days after the military coup, but protests grew against a regional proposal to end the crisis.

Troops from the guard regiment loyal to former president Blaise Compaore on September 16 detained interim president Michel Kafando and prime minister Isaac Zida, himself a former deputy commander of the RSP unit. 

Led by Senegal’s President Macky Sall, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) undertook three days of mediation in a Ouagadougou hotel and came up on Sunday with a 12-point plan to move forward. 

Early Monday, Ouagadougou residents queueing to settle bills at the national power supplier, Sonabel, were highly critical of the ECOWAS deal and said they would take to the streets.

“We don’t trust ECOWAS any more. We want to get out there and take our destiny in our hands. The bodies are not even buried and (they want) an amnesty. We shall barricade everything,” said Adama Traore, an office worker in his 30s, referring to those killed in coup-linked violence. 

The soldiers staged the coup ahead of elections planned for October 11, angry at the transitional regime’s ban on any candidate who had supported Compaore in his bid to extend his 27-year rule before he was ousted by a popular uprising at the end of 2014. 

The RSP, headed by General Gilbert Diendere, a close aide of Compaore who described the transitional regime as “deviant”, was also angered at recommendations to disband it. 

The proposed ECOWAS deal provides for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by November 22 at the latest, but above all lifts the ban of pro-Compaore candidates. “Let’s not start a fire that we can’t put out,” Sall said in presenting the compromise. 

 ‘There has to be a deal’ 

The regional body also wants Diendere’s regime “to restore the transitional institutions and president Kafando”, who was freed by the soldiers on Friday. But premier Zida is still under house arrest. 

ECOWAS mediators decided that the fate of the RSP should be decided by a future Burkinabe leader, but proposed an amnesty for those behind the coup.  

Groups of youths were already putting up barricades and burning tyres in the outlying Ouagadougou districts of Zogon and Tampouy. “Down with ECOWAS!” they cried, as well as shouting slogans hostile to the presidential guard and its commander. 

Paramilitary police in riot gear challenged the protestors at Tampouy in the west, but held talks with youth leaders and left to applause after an agreement that ambulances and other emergency services would not be hindered. 

Another resident of the capital, Dieudonne, took a nuanced perspective of the political proposal. “Amnesty isn’t a good thing, but to allow candidates from the CDP (Compaore’s party) why not? There has to be a deal. They have only to stand (for election) and may the best man win.” 

The “Balai Citoyen” (Civic Broom) civil society movement, which helped spearhead the protests that overthrew Compaore after he tried to extend his 27-year grip on power, has also denounced the deal. “It is shameful what has been proposed by ECOWAS. I’m ashamed to be African,” spokesman Guy-Herve Kam declared. 

“They have forgotten the dead,” he added, referring to the at least 10 people killed and more than 110 wounded since the coup began on Wednesday. Shops reopened on Monday and hundreds of motorcycle taxis were busy on the streets, empty of the many soldiers who had turned out each day after the coup. 

But banks, service stations, supermarkets and government offices were closed and the Internet was barely available. A number of cellphone networks were cut off.  “They’re trying to prevent people from communicating,” said Issouf Ouedraogo, 25, who also criticised proposed impunity for soldiers who fired on crowds.

Demonstrations to oust Compaore were often organised on social media.

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