At least 50 civilians were killed in an attack by suspected militants in northern Burkina Faso, government spokesman Lionel Bilgo said on Monday, in one of the bloodiest clashes since the military coup in January.
“The army has so far found 50 bodies” after an attack on Sitenga village on Saturday night, Bilgo said, adding that the death toll “may rise”.
“Relatives (of the victims) have returned to Setinga and may have taken the bodies away,” Bilgo told a news conference.
The European Union said the attack may have left “more than 100 civilian casualties”.
She condemned the incident and called for “shedding light on the circumstances of this killing.”
“The method used by the terrorist group that carried out the attack, namely the systematic execution of anyone they encountered in the village, is appalling,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
Sitenga was the scene of a bloody fight last week.
Eleven gendarmes were killed on Thursday, leading to a military operation that the army said killed about 40 jihadists.
“The bloodshed (at the end of the week) was caused by reprisals for the military’s actions,” Bilgo said.
The country has been bombed but the army is doing its job.”
Humanitarian organizations in the area said about 3,000 people were staying in neighboring towns after fleeing the village.
The landlocked Sahel state is in the grip of a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed more than 2,000 lives and forced some 1.9 million people from their homes.
The attacks were concentrated in the north and east of the country, led by attackers suspected of links to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
The latest raid was one of the deadliest since the military coup in January, when the colonel was angered by the failures to quell the rebellion that toppled President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
The new strongman, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Henry Sandaugo Damiba, immediately pledged to make security his main priority.
But after a relative lull, attacks have resumed, killing nearly 300 civilians and military personnel over the past three months.
The military coup was preceded by two attacks that stunned the country.
The first, in the Sulhan district in the northeast, killed 132 people in June, while the second in Inata, in the north, killed 57 gendarmes in November.
The Inata attack – the largest single-day loss among security forces in the history of the insurgency – was particularly shocking.
It targeted gendarmes who were to be relieved and called for help before the attack, saying they were running out of food and ammunition.
On Saturday, several hundred people demonstrated in the eastern town of Bama, saying their area had been “abandoned” by the authorities despite the jihadist siege that began in February.
Other cities in the north and east, including Djibo, Titau and Maggiore, are also in the grip of a de facto siege by jihadists, requiring resupply under military escort.
“Our forces face a huge challenge – they are under constant pressure,” Bilgo admitted.
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