Burkina Faso’s military on Friday claimed to have quashed a mutiny in southwestern Bobo Dioulasso where disgruntled soldiers have looted and wreaked havoc for days to demand higher wages.
President Blaise Compaore earlier in the day sent a unit of his presidential guard backed up by paratroopers, commandos and police to the country’s economic capital to intervene for the first time against army mutineers.
The country’s military commander on Friday vowed to use force, including firepower, to stifle mutinies until complete order and calm were restored.
But before the day was over the bulk of the operation was completed and the situation under control, a high-ranking member of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP) told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We have total control of the (mutineers’) camp, but we are looking for those who fled, because there are some who disappeared during the attack on the camp and there were some who were outside the camp when we arrived,” he said.
Compaore’s forces arrested some 50 mutineers and seized weapons, ammunition and stolen goods which were stockpiled at the camp, the RSP official said.
The military intervention, the first since unrest broke out among garrisons nationwide in March, wounded 18 people including nine soldiers and a 15-year-old girl, a medical source said.
The siren of the city hall sounded shortly before the RSP soldiers went into action early Friday, in an intended warning to people to stay off the streets.
They encircled a military base in Bobo Dioulasso to search out the mutineers inside, provoking an intense exchange of gunfire, one resident said.
Confronted with its worst crisis since Compaore came to power in a 1987 military coup, the government on Wednesday urged mutineers to show restraint and called for talks, warning of “measures” if order was not re-established.
At least 60 people have received treatment for injuries over the past two days, a hospital source said Friday. Rioting soldiers overnight Thursday went “into every district and were shooting everywhere,” one resident said.
“Part of the market has been sacked,” mayor Salia Sanou said, shortly after the presidential guard intervened. “There is a lot of damage. We have to free the people and protect their property.”
Following the military intervention the local governor shortened a curfew on the city. Residents ventured out into the streets, offering water and ginger juice to the elite government forces.
Mutinies over pay have spread to all the military bases of this nation of 16 million people and the government has generally responded by giving out bonuses.
Soldiers have made no political demands nor shown any intention of seeking to overthrow the regime, but authorities have also been faced with public protests over high food prices, unemployment and the looting of property by troops.
In a bid to quell unrest since February, Compaore has fired army and police chiefs and formed a new government, naming himself defence minister, while promising subsidies on basic commodities and other urgent measures.