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Burkina Faso soldiers enter capital as peace talks begin

C. Konkobo, France 24 Observers | Military convoys left Koudougou to reach the capital Ouagadougou on September 21, 2015

Burkina Faso soldiers entered the capital Ouagadougou late on Monday night without resistance from the elite presidential guard who led a coup last week, a senior military source said.

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At the same time, talks between army leaders and the presidential guard on the terms of the latter’s surrender began in central Ouagadougou, the source told Reuters.

Burkina Faso’s interim president Michel Kafando, who was taken hostage during the coup and then held under house arrest, was seeking refuge inside the French ambassador’s residence in the capital, the ambassador said.

“I confirm, with the authorisation of President Kafando, he is indeed in the French residence,” Ambassador Gilles Thibault wrote on his Twitter account late on Monday.

The elite presidential guard staged a coup last Wednesday, taking hostage the interim president and members of the government just weeks before an October 11 election meant to restore democracy following last year’s overthrow of longtime leader Blaise Compaoré.

“All of the nation’s armed forces are converging on Ouagadougou with the sole goal of disarming the presidential guard without bloodshed,” the army chiefs said in a statement.

“We ask them to immediately lay down their arms and go to Camp Sangoulé Lamizana, and they and their families will be protected,” the statement added, referring to a barracks in the west of the capital.

Troops cheered on

Residents in the towns of Dedougou, Fada N’Gourma, Kaya, Ouahigouya and the country’s second-largest city Bobo-Dioulasso saw the troops travelling aboard tanks, trucks and pick-ups in the afternoon surrounded by cheering crowds.

As the armed forces rolled towards the capital, French President François Hollande urged the Burkina coup soldiers to "immediately lay down [their] arms".

Speaking after talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall, Hollande added in a statement that France would halt "civilian, financial and military cooperation" with Burkina Faso until the interim government was restored.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou and Chad’s President Idriss Déby also called on the presidential guard to return to their barracks and cede power to the interim government.

“[The presidential guard should] lay down their weapons and return to their barracks, and let the transition take place according to the programme that was already in place,” Déby said at a press conference alongside Issoufou.

Mediation efforts

Mediators from regional bloc ECOWAS announced a draft agreement aimed at ending the crisis late on Sunday. However the proposal, which included an amnesty for the coup leaders, was swiftly rejected by civil society and opposition politicians.

In a televised address on Monday evening, coup leader Gilbert Diendéré, promised to abide by the draft deal.

FRANCE 24’s Julia Steers reports from Ouagadougou

"We confirm our commitment to return power to the civilian transition authorities following implementation of the agreement proposed by ECOWAS," he said.

But interim president Kafando told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station, Radio France Internationale (RFI), earlier on Monday that he had “strong reservations” about the draft deal, adding that he was not at all involved with the mediation process.

Protests

Demonstrators protesting against Diendéré and the ECOWAS deal erected barricades and burned tyres in several neighbourhoods in Ouagadougou on Monday.

While many shops were open in the capital, banks, service stations, supermarkets and government offices were closed and the Internet was barely available. A number of mobile phone networks were cut off, AFP reported.

Large protests were also organised in several other towns across the country.

“There’s a potential civil conflict there now. If [Diendéré] stays, the people will fight him,” said Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.

US clears embassy

The United States on Monday urged its citizens to quit the country and authorised the partial evacuation of its embassy.

The US State Department issued a travel alert warning US citizens to avoid the country and those already there to depart as soon as possible.

The families of diplomatic staff and “non-emergency” embassy staff have been permitted to leave, it said.

“Embassy staff remaining in Burkina Faso continue to shelter in place,” the department said.

“The US Embassy in Ouagadougou will operate at reduced staffing levels and will continue to provide emergency consular services to US citizens.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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