Burkina Faso: More Than 160 Killed in Deadliest Attack of Burkina Faso's War

A map showing the location of Yagha province, on Burkina Faso's border with Niger.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — The government of Burkina Faso has declared three days of mourning following an attack that left at least 160 people dead late last week in the northern village of Solhan.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, noting that local hospitals are overwhelmed, said it responded Sunday morning to a request for medical supplies in Dori, a town in northern Burkina Faso.

"Upon requests for support by the health authorities in Dori, we sent half a ton of medical support, mainly dressings, medication, sets of plaster, syringes, and anesthetic, was really important to be sent with no delay," Laurent Saugy, the head of the Burkina Faso delegation of the International Committee for the Red Cross, told VOA.

The attack happened overnight Friday on the village of Solhan, located in Yagha province, near the border with Niger, in the country's Sahel region.

The extent of the carnage is not known because the number of dead and injured continues to rise. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although analysts say it could be the work of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

The attack is the deadliest since the conflict between Burkina Faso and armed groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group began in 2015. This weekend's violence follows a period of relative calm.

Between March 2020 and April 2021, the number of attacks in Burkina Faso fell dramatically. Since the beginning of April, seven major attacks have come in quick succession.

On May 17, Burkina Faso's foreign minister, Cherif Sy, visited Sebba, the nearest town to Solhan. He said the situation in Sebba was favorable and that peace had returned to the area.

Mahamadou Sawadogo, a Burkinabe security analyst and former military police officer, told VOA that this attack could be seen as a show of force, a demonstration of power by armed terrorist groups. He said that they have shown they control the province of Yagha and particularly the area of Solhan, which they have been trying to conquer since 2020.

Solhan is the site of an informal gold mine that terror groups frequently exploit for funding.

The military in Burkina Faso is under-resourced and is finding it impossible to provide security in all regions of the country despite assistance from French and U.S. troops.

Aside from the number of people killed, the humanitarian aftermath could also be significant. There are already 1.2 million displaced people in the country.

"Beyond the sheer death toll, there are other counts to keep," Marine Olivesi, advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Ouagadougou, told VOA.

"How many families are going to be forced into displacement as a result of these attacks? For how many weeks, months, years? And, on top of that, there are things you can't quantify that are just as daunting: the trauma for the children there, the fear of not knowing where to go to keep them safe, the stress of not having a place to sleep or enough to eat," she added.

Apart from a statement on Twitter, the president, Roch Kabore, has yet to speak publicly about the attack.

"I honor the memory of the hundred civilians killed in this barbaric attack and send my condolences to the families of the victims," Kabore wrote on Twitter, announced a national mourning beginning at midnight.

Dans la nuit du 04 au 05 juin, des individus armés ont attaqué le village SOLHAN dans la commune de Sebba dans la région du Sahel. Je m'incline devant la mémoire de la centaine de civils tués dans cette attaque barbare et adresse mes condoléances aux familles des victimes 1/2 -- Roch KABORE (@rochkaborepf) June 5, 2021

A United Nations spokesperson said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced outrage over the killings. The spokesperson cited Guterres as saying the incident "underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll."

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