By Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners gathered in Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday for the funeral of 27 soldiers killed in an ambush last month that triggered the country’s second coup this year led by a military unit fed up with rampant insecurity.
The coffins were wrapped in the Burkina Faso flag and sided by portraits of the soldiers who were killed on Sept. 26 while escorting a convoy that was delivering supplies to a northern town besieged by Islamist insurgents.
“People are saddened and sickened by the situation we are experiencing. It really hurts the heart to see young people in their prime leaving,” said Abdoul Fatao Bangue, a friend of one of the soldiers.
Tributes for fallen soldiers have become a regular occurrence in the impoverished West African country, where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands of people in raids on rural communities since 2015.
In recent months, insurgents have blockaded parts of the arid north, causing acute food shortages for thousands.
On Sept. 30, four days after the attack, soldiers led by Captain Ibrahim Traore overthrew President Paul-Henri Damiba and promised greater security. Damiba had staged his own coup in January promising the same, only for the attacks to continue.
Traore has a massive task ahead, not least securing Djibo, the town that the convoy was trying to reach on Sept. 26. It has become a glaring example of the government’s loss of control in the north – and of the price paid by civilians caught in the middle.
Militants have for years managed to isolate Djibo from the capital 200 kilometres (120 miles) away, by using explosive devices, ambushes and illegal checkpoints.
This year, things have got much worse, residents and humanitarian workers told Reuters. The insurgents have cut off food and medical supplies, including treatment for malnourished children. Market shelves are empty; even salt is hard to find.
Only humanitarian flights are able to get in, but even they are struggling to meet residents’ needs. Army convoys bringing supplies face the threat of attacks.
“We lack food and we can’t even buy any in the market,” said one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Without alternatives, we eat leaves and meat.”
The militants don’t allow freedom of movement. Anyone leaving risks being killed and no one can access their farms or cattle, the residents said.
“I have been particularly shocked by how fast the situation deteriorated throughout these past months,” said Alfarock Ag-Almoustakine, a project coordinator in Djibo for Doctors Without Borders.
“We really hope that all parties can find a solution to supply the city as quickly as possible to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”
(Writing and additional reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Ros Russell)