Burkina Faso army blamed for extrajudicial torture, deaths

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Two survivors who did not wish to be identified show their wounds which they said were inflicted by government soldiers in June, in Fada N'gourma town in Burkina Faso Thursday, July 9, 2020. Burkina Faso's military is facing growing accusations that soldiers have tortured and killed civilians accused of aiding Islamic extremists and analysts say the ill-equipped and under-trained army is scrambling to stem the spread of jihadist violence that's ravaging the West African country. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

FADA N'GOURMA – FADA N'Huddled on the floor in a dimly lit room, one by one the five men displayed wounds they say were inflicted by government soldiers armed with wooden planks, knives and electric cables.

A 30-year-old recounted how a soldier held a cigarette lighter to his face while holding his head to the ground with a boot.

“The soldiers said if you don’t tell us where the jihadists are we’ll kill you,” said the man, who like the others spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “I was screaming and crying and begging him not to burn me."

Of the dozen men taken from Burkina Faso’s eastern town of Tawalbougou in late June on suspicion of supporting Islamic extremist rebels, only five survived, they said. One man died from the beatings and six others were shot and killed, said the survivors. Their families were too afraid to collect their bodies, they said.

Some of the survivors can barely speak after the trauma, but all maintain they had no affiliation with the Islamic extremists who have rapidly destabilized Burkina Faso over the past few years.

Such accusations of extrajudicial killings, torture and unlawful detention by Burkina Faso’s military are mounting, as the ill-equipped and under-trained army scrambles to stem the spread of jihadist violence that’s ravaging the country. As attacks linked to Islamic militants increase, so does the army’s targeting of civilians perceived to support them, charge rights groups.

Government officials deny that its forces are carrying out the abuse and say it places great emphasis on human rights and is conducting investigations into other alleged abuses by security personnel.

The allegations of rights abuses highlight the instability caused by the spread of extremist violence in Burkina Faso and the surrounding countries of West Africa's Sahel region. Similar extremist violence in neighboring Mali and that government's lack of success in controlling it is blamed for contributing to the coup there last week.