More than 7,000 people have fled a village in Burkina Faso that was attacked over the weekend, adding to tens of thousands already displaced by a jihadist insurgency in the country.
More than 138 people were killed in an attack on the village of Solhan on Saturday, and 40 were seriously wounded, though local sources put the death toll higher, making it the deadliest attack since the start of a jihadist insurgency in 2015 that has been targeting civilians and soldiers.
The attackers in Solhan “burned almost everything, houses, the market, the school and the dispensary”, a local official said.
As a result some 7,600 people fled to Sebba, the capital of Yagha province, 15 kilometres away.
Communications Minister Ousseni Tamboura said the village “has been completely emptied of people”.
A local official said that most of those who left Solhan, near the border with Niger, had already been fleeing jihadist violence, including in the Mansila district to the west.
The spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, Babar Baloch said in Geneva that the displaced people include more than 2,000 children
“Steps have already been taken to give them a minimum level of comfort, lodgings and food,” said Prime Minister Christophe Dabire, on a visit to the area after the attack.
Who was behind the attack?
Burkina Faso has seen attacks from jihadist organisations, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which on Tuesday said it “completely denies any involvement” in the Solhan killings.
The GSIM called the attack “atrocious”, adding that they are “not part of Muslim methods in jihad”.
The attack could be linked to gold, as Solhan is in an area with many mines, drawing people from all over the region.
A report by the country’s economic and social observatory found that gold was a source of financing for the jihadist organisations, and some 115 million euros’ worth of gold have been pillaged since 2016, in attacks against mines and small-scale gold miners.
The governor of the Sahel region announced on Sunday that all activities linked to gold mining in the Yagha and Oudalan provinces would be suspended until further notice.
Dabire promised that the attack “will not go unpunished”, and that armed forces were “combing the area”.
France’s anti-jihadist Barkhane force is currently conducting operations with local troops in the area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the attack “shows us is that military actions are not enough… if countries don’t re-conquer their own territory”.
On Friday, 14 people were killed in the village of Tadaryat, in the same region as Solhan.
Since 2019, violence in Burkina Faso has forced more than 1.2 million people to flee their homes, according to the UNHCR.
Since the start of this year alone, some 150,000 people have become internally displaced, the vast majority of them women and children.