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Burkina Faso to Arm Civilians in Fight against Extremists

2020-1-30

Burkina Faso’s parliament has approved legislation permitting the military to use civilian volunteers in the fight against Islamic extremism. The decision shows just how much help soldiers need in dealing with attacks across the West African country.

Burkina Faso’s military has been criticized for killings carried out during its fight against militants. Observers warn that arming civilians with little training could lead to more claims of human rights abuses.

Defense Minister Cheriff Sy said earlier this month that all volunteers would receive two weeks of training. The training would include subjects like how to use weapons and discipline.

FILE - A vehicle of the Burkina Faso Army patrols a rural area in the Soum region in northern Burkina Faso, Nov. 14, 2019.
FILE - A vehicle of the Burkina Faso Army patrols a rural area in the Soum region in northern Burkina Faso, Nov. 14, 2019.

Sy said, “We want to prevent these volunteers from becoming militias.”

Volunteers must be 18 years old. Sy said they will face what he calls a “moral investigation” before being permitted to serve. Volunteers will receive extra money once their service is completed. He added that health benefits would be paid to those who are wounded while on duty.

Burkina Faso’s military receives training and assistance from France and the United States. However, it has struggled to contain the spread of militant groups.

Sy said the use of civilian volunteers would permit the military to do more against extremists.

For years, Burkina Faso did not face the kind of Islamic extremism that affected neighboring Niger and Mali. A 2013 French-led military campaign removed extremists from power in several major towns.

In January 2016, militants attacked a popular café in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. The attack killed at least 30 people. The following year, 18 people were killed at a Turkish restaurant in the capital.

The United Nations reports that deaths from attacks have increased sharply in the last few years, from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 in 2019.

Burkina Faso’s military has been criticized for committing abuses in military campaigns following attacks by militants. Human Rights Watch said that security forces had killed more than 150 men last year. Most were ethnic Peuhl herders. The men were accused of supporting or protecting extremists.

Activists say such killings by security forces have only increased the number of extremists.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in this Story

discipline – n. a way of behaving that shows a willingness to obey rules or orders

benefit – n. money that is paid by a company such as an insurance company or by a government when someone dies, becomes sick, stops working, etc.

herder – n. a person who manages, breeds, or tends to livestock