Burkina Faso: Prime Minister Rules Out Any Deal With Jihadists, Boosts Civil Militias

A family go in search of water in Burkina Faso where more than 950,000 people are severely food insecure, notably in the conflict-hit northern regions.

Burkina Faso's prime minister on Tuesday ruled out any negotiations with jihadist insurgents that have taken control of swathes of the West African country since 2015.

"We will never negotiate, either over Burkina Faso's territorial integrity or its sovereignty," Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela told parliament, adding that the government aimed to double the number of volunteers for the VDP civil defence militia to 100,000.

"The only negotiations that matter with these armed bandits are those taking place on the battlefield," de Tambela told the Transitional Legislative Assembly.

Military junta

Burkina Faso has been ruled since 2022 by a military junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traore.

He has vowed to recapture the 40 percent of the country's territory controlled by jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

Traore has also ousted the French military force deployed to help battle the insurgents in several Sahel nations, and is suspected instead of eyeing Russian military help.

After a series of bloody attacks since the start of this year, the junta announced in April a general mobilisation for the armed forces.

Since 2015, violence has seen more than 10,000 killed - both civilians and military - according to NGOs, and displaced some two million people.

De Tambela said Tuesday that "thanks to our efforts" more than 20,000 households, representing more than 125,000 people, "have returned to their regions," without further detail.

"We will defend our territory and our populations whatever the cost," he said.

Civilian volunteers

The Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP) comprises civilian volunteers who are given two weeks' military training.

They then work alongside the army, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

The force is one of the keystones of the Traore's anti-jihadist strategy.

But since its inception in December 2019 has suffered hundreds of casualties, especially in ambushes or roadside bombings.

Despite the high losses, the authorities launched a successful recruitment drive last year for the VDP.

Around 90,000 people signed up in response to a call for patriotism, far exceeding the target of 50,000.

(with AFP)

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