OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Protesters in Burkina Faso demonstrated Friday against the return of former President Blaise Compaore, as the ruling junta faltered in its efforts to hold a summit on the crisis of jihadi violence.
Compaore, the longtime military strongman ousted by a popular insurrection in 2014, returned to Burkina Faso Thursday to attend the unprecedented meeting with other former leaders.
Junta leader Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba called the meeting which was to include five former presidents. But on Friday only two ex-leaders showed up for the meeting: Compaore and Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who ruled the country for nine months between 1982 and 1983 when it was known as Upper Volta.
The meeting devised by Damiba, who had himself appointed interim president, was an attempt to discuss Burkina Faso’s future amid escalating jihadi violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people.
Former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore who was ousted by Damiba in January, was prevented from attending by protesters who surrounded his house, according to internal security reports for aid workers seen by The Associated Press.
Riot police gathered outside Kabore’s house Friday to control the protesters.
“If Roch Marc Christian Kabore still has some dignity he should normally refuse to go to this meeting. So I am in front of his doors and I said he must not move,” said Ahmed Ki, a Kabore supporter.
Others in the capital protested the return of Compaore, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 30 years. Although in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast, a Burkina Faso court recently convicted him of complicity in the murder in 1987 of former President Thomas Sankara and sentenced him to life in prison.
Lawyers for the Sankara family have called for his arrest.
“Mr. Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial of the military court of Ouagadougou and he is still subject to an arrest warrant issued against him by the military court,” said Benewende Stanislas Sankara, spokesman for the Sankara family.
Local rights organizations warn that by giving Compaore impunity the junta has taken an “extremely serious step,” that undermines the rule of law in Burkina Faso, Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights, told The Associated Press.
In a statement on state television, Damiba defended his decision to allow Compaore to visit the country.
“To the Burkinabe who have expressed their opinions against our approach, we tell them that the process is not made to consecrate impunity, but to contribute to the search for solutions for a Burkina Faso of peace and cohesion,” he said.
The junta will continue discussions with those who were unable to attend the meeting, he said.
The junta’s message of “forgive and forget” isn’t going to be accepted easily by the public, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory.
“This urgent meeting has proven unsuccessful thus far, and it is, if anything, eroding the already fragile public trust in the governing junta,” he said.