People converge on market day in Djibo, in the Soum Province of Burkina Faso’s Sahel administrative region. The majority of attacks by armed Islamist groups active in Burkina Faso have been on villages in the Soum Province. Alamy Stock Photo

A vigilante self-defence militia was behind for this month’s massacre of 43 people in three Fulani villages in northern Burkina Faso, according to testimonies collected by Amnesty International.

Local sources had told AFP that the assailants were Koglweogo, self-defence groups acting in retaliation for jihadist attacks.

A government statement after the March 8 attack did not blame any group for the killings and had promised an investigation.

Amnesty said in a statement on Friday that it interviewed “seven key local witnesses and survivors in the villages of Dinguila-Peulh, Barga and Ramdolla-Peulh that were attacked”.

The witnesses told the NGO that “it was the Koglweogo who carried out the onslaught, firing and indiscriminately killing people and burning homes and possessions”.

According to local sources, Fulani people make up the bulk of the population of the villages which came under attack.

Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, has battled a jihadist insurgency since 2015. The conflict has provoked attacks on Fulani herders whom other communities accuse of supporting militants.

A year ago, unidentified armed individuals attacked the village of Yirgou and killed six people, including the village chief. The attack was followed by inter-community reprisals, resulting in 46 deaths, according to official figures, but more than 200 according to NGOs and politicians.

On Friday, Amnesty described harrowing scenes of this month’s attacks in which it said the elderly, including a 90-year-old blind man, were among those killed.

“Koglweogo arrived on motorcycles and started shooting at all the men… I suddenly saw a Koglweogo, just in front of the herd. He talked to my elder son, then aimed the gun at him and shot him. He fell on the spot and the man continued on his way”, one witness told Amnesty.

Another witness said the attackers “stripped some of the dead of their money”.

Many of the villagers have now fled to Ouahigouya, the regional capital, according to Amnesty.

The organisation said the killings “occurred in the context of the government’s promulgation of the ‘Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland Act’”.

The new law was put in place in January to authorise the recruitment of ‘volunteers’ for military purposes, Amnesty said, “in an effort to ramp up the fight against growing violence and attacks by armed groups across Burkina Faso”.

Burkina Faso is in the centre of the Sahel region where a militant insurgency has spread from Mali. Attacks in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso killed at least 4,000 people in 2019, according to the United Nations.

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