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Burkina Faso confirms telling France to withdraw troops

#Burkina #Faso #confirms #telling #France #withdraw #troops

The Burkina Faso government confirmed Monday that it has asked ex-colonial ruler France to pull its troops out of the insurgency-hit country within a month, but Paris called for clarification from coup leader Ibrahim Traore himself.

France deploys about 400 special forces soldiers in junta-ruled Burkina, but relations have deteriorated and tensions have soared in recent months.

“We are terminating the agreement which allows French forces to be in Burkina Faso,” government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo told Radio-Television du Burkina.

“This is not the end of diplomatic relations between Burkina Faso and France,” he said. “This termination is normal and is foreseen in the terms of the agreement.”

The junta and all the country wanted “to be the prime actors in the recapture of our territory”, he added, echoing Captain Traore’s rallying call to reclaim as a priority swaths of land occupied by jihadists.

Burkina Faso’s state news agency had unveiled the request late on Saturday.

AFP obtained on Sunday a copy of the Burkinabe foreign ministry’s note sent to Paris and dated last Wednesday, asking to “terminate and close the agreement in its entirety”.

In Paris, foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre told AFP in writing on Monday that the note had been received from Ouagadougou.

President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he was awaiting clarifications from Traore over the call for a pullout, claiming there was “great confusion”.

France was still “waiting for the transitional Burkinabe president to clarify the meaning of this note,” Legendre said.

Several sources said Paris was seeking confirmation from Traore because the Burkina government is divided over whether to keep French troops in the country.

– ‘Can’t be any clearer’ –

The Burkina government spokesman said earlier Monday: “At the present stage we don’t see how we can make it more clear.”

Since the latest military regime seized power in September, several demonstrations have taken place calling for the departure of the French ambassador, as well as the French troops.

Protesters attacked the French cultural centre in the capital Ouagadougou in October.

The French foreign ministry acknowledged that the junta had asked it to replace ambassador Luc Hallade after he ruffled feathers with reports on Burkina’s worsening security situation.

At the same time Burkina Faso, like its neighbour Mali, appears to be turning increasingly towards Russia as a partner.

“Russia is a reasonable choice in this dynamic,” Burkinabe Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela said last week after talks with the Russian ambassador and a December visit to Moscow.

“We think our partnership has to be strengthened,” he added.

Burkina Faso is reeling from jihadist violence that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.

The insurgency has claimed the lives of thousands and driven at least two million others from their homes.

Paris has been concerned about a repeat of its disastrous falling-out with Mali, from which it had to remove its troops last year.

If French forces were to pull out of Burkina, Paris’s preferred option looks to be redeployment to the south of neighbouring Niger, where nearly 2,000 of its soldiers are already stationed.

Niger, the poorest state in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index, is struggling with two jihadist emergencies and seeking to boost the numbers of its armed forces.

France and the United States both have important military bases in the vast arid country, while Germany has a logistics base.

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