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World news | Burkina Faso’s army killed more than 200 civilians in a village attack, Human Rights Watch says

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Dakar, April 25 (AP) Armed forces in Burkina Faso have killed 223 civilians, including infants and many children, in attacks on two villages accused of collaborating with militants, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Thursday.

The massacres took place on February 25 in the country’s northern villages of Nondin and Soro. The dead included about 56 children, according to the report.

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The rights group called on the United Nations and the African Union to provide investigators and support local efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

“The massacres in the villages of Nondin and Soro are just the latest mass killings of civilians by the Burkina Faso military in their counter-insurgency operations,” Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

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“International assistance is critical to support credible investigations into possible crimes against humanity.”

The once peaceful country has been ravaged by violence that has pitted jihadists linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State against state-backed forces. Both sides have targeted civilians in the middle, causing more than two million people to flee, more than half of whom are children. Most attacks go unpunished and unreported in a country led by a repressive leadership that silences suspected dissidents.

The HRW report provides a rare first-hand account of the killings by survivors, as civilian casualties among Burkina Faso’s security forces have surged as the junta struggles to beat back a growing jihadist insurgency and attacks residents under the guise of combating terrorism.

Earlier in April, The Associated Press verified reports of a Nov. 5 army attack on another village that killed at least 70 people. The details were similar: the army blamed the villagers for their collaboration with militants and slaughtered them, even babies.

Witnesses and survivors told HRW that the February 25 killings were believed to have been carried out in retaliation for an attack by Islamist fighters on a military camp near the provincial capital of Ouahigouya, about 25 kilometers away.

The number of civilian deaths was higher than initially described by local officials. A prosecutor previously said his office was investigating the reported deaths of 170 people in attacks on those villages.

A spokesperson for the Burkina Faso government did not respond to requests for comment about the February 25 attack. Officials previously denied killing civilians and said jihad fighters often disguise themselves as soldiers.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Burkina Faso since jihadist violence linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State hit the West African country nine, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit. years ago for the first time. .

Burkina Faso has experienced two coups in 2022. Since seizing power in September 2022, the junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré has vowed to beat back militants, but the violence has only worsened, analysts say. About half of Burkina Faso’s territory remains outside government control.

Frustrated by a lack of progress after years of Western military aid, the junta has severed military ties with former colonial ruler France and instead turned to Russia for security support.

(This is an unedited auto-generated story from the Syndicated News Feed. Staff may not have edited or edited the content recently)