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UN says attack in Burkina Faso kills 25 people

By SAM MEDNICK | Associated Press | Published: October 7, 2020

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The United Nations refugee agency says 25 men were killed on Sunday when gunmen ambushed a convoy near their village in Burkina Faso's Center-North region.

A statement Wednesday said the men were separated from the group and killed while women and children were released. The gunmen then fled.

Three of the women told The Associated Press the gunmen identified themselves as jihadists and said they were attacking in retaliation for having volunteer defense fighters in the village.

"They said people from our town had recruited volunteers to fight them and 'today, we've got you'," Wendpengda Ouedraogo said by phone from Pissila town near the location of the attack.

The government was not able to confirm the killings, but several officials in towns in the Center-North region told the AP they were aware of the situation and said it was being investigated. But they put the number of deaths at between 15 or 20 people.

Violence has wracked the once peaceful West African country, killing almost 2,000 people this year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. The Center-North region is one of the hardest hit areas.

In an attempt to bolster the struggling army's fight against the jihadists, the government passed a law in January to arm civilians. However, the program has been hastily rolled out and some volunteers have become perpetrators of abuses. They also have become targets for collaborating with the army.

"From the outset, there were major concerns that the volunteer program risked aggravating tensions along ethnic fault lines, a prophecy that clearly has been fulfilled given the continuous vicious cycle of attacks and reprisal killings between jihadi militant groups, communal self-defense groups and ethnic-based militias," said Heni Nsaibia, a Sahel researcher.

The women who were returning to their village on Sunday told the AP it was the first time they'd gone back since being displaced a year and a half ago.

"I thought it was safe to return," said one, Haoua Korgo.