Five Burkinabe defence volunteers die in 'jihadist attack'

Five Burkina Faso defence volunteers killed in attack, 17 'jihadists neutralised'
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Five civil defence volunteers were killed in an attack which also saw the 'neutralising [of] 17 terrorists' in Burkina Faso, according to a government official.
Seventeen suspected jihadists and five civil defence volunteers died [AHMED OUOBA/AFP via Getty Images-file photo]

Seventeen suspected jihadists and five members of a civil defence militia have been killed in an attack in northern Burkina Faso, security and government sources told AFP on Thursday.

"Armed men arriving on about 20 motorbikes attacked the VDP (defence militia) camp in Bilakoka," located in Burkina's northern region of Sahel bordering Mali and Niger, on Wednesday, a government official told AFP.

"The volunteers repelled the attack, neutralising 17 terrorists. Five VDP members also lost their lives during the attack."

A security source confirmed the toll and said the armed forces were carrying out a "sweep" and securing the area.

Landlocked Burkina Faso, an arid Sahel nation, has been battling attacks since 2015 from forces that include the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

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Raids and ambushes have been concentrated in the north and east close to the borders with Mali and Niger, both of which have also faced deadly violence by jihadists.

More than 1,500 people in Burkina have died and more than 1.3 million have fled their homes, in a population of around 20 million.

In December 2019, the government set up the VDP - the French initials for Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland - to provide support for the beleaguered armed forces.

Civilian volunteers are given 14 days' military training and then do auxiliary work such as surveillance and information gathering.

But the toll among this force has been high, with around 250 killed, according to an AFP tally.

On Tuesday, two people, one of them a VDP member, were killed in Gayeri in the eastern province of Komondjari, near the border with Niger.

In a separate development, a court in Ouagadougou, the Burkina capital, handed down a 21-year jail term on Thursday to a 25-year-old Malian on charges of associating with jihadists and possessing arms.

The defendant, Mahmoudou Ibrahim Diallo, was arrested in 2019 by troops from France's Barkhane mission in Ariel, also in the Sahel administrative region, at a base.

The court heard that Diallo was guarding a cache of weapons and had traces of gunpowder on his arms. He rejected the charges.

On Tuesday, two Burkinabe jihadists were given 20-year terms for attacking a school in northern Burkina Faso in 2018.