Updated: June 07, 2021 07:45 AM GMT
A Burkina Faso soldier patrols at a camp sheltering internally displaced persons from northern Burkina Faso in Dori in February 2020. (Photo: Olympia de Maismont/AFP)
Pope Francis has prayed for the victims of a deadly attack in Burkina Faso that killed at least 160 people, including 20 children, in the deadliest violence since 2015 in the West African nation.
“I am close to their families and to the entire Burkinabé people who are suffering greatly from these repeated attacks,” the 84-year-old pontiff said on June 6 after the Sunday Angelus at the Vatican. “Africa needs peace and not violence.”
Homes and the local market were set on fire during the early-morning raid by unidentified persons on June 5 in Solhan, the northern region in Burkina Faso, near the borders with Mali and Niger.
On June 6, nearly 160 bodies were unearthed from three mass graves in Solhan, AFP reported, quoting local government agencies.
"It's the local people themselves who have started exhuming the bodies and burying them after transporting them," an unnamed government official told the French news agency.
Another 40 residents were reportedly wounded in the attack.
We must stand united against the forces of evil
No group has claimed responsibility for the violence so far, but attacks by jihadist elements are increasingly common in the country.
The UN chief said he was "outraged" by the incident. António Guterres "strongly condemns the heinous attack," his spokesperson said.
Solhan, a small village around 15 kilometers from Sebba city in Yagha province, has been plagued by numerous attacks in the recent past.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has denounced the attack and declared three days of national mourning.
"We must stand united against the forces of evil,” he tweeted, describing the attack as "barbaric.”
After a telephone talk call Kabore, Jean-Yves Le Drian, French foreign minister, said he would soon visit the former French colony.
French forces have been supporting troops from Burkina Faso to fight the militants.
The massive attack occurred hours after another attack on June 4 in Tadaryat village, about 150km to the north of Solhan, which claimed the lives of 14 people.
Last month nearly 30 people were killed in an attack in the east of Burkina Faso.
Since 2015, jihadist elements have had the upper hand in the confict in Burkina Faso, which is facing a security crisis like many of its neighbors in the Saheel region.
Two main Islamic groups — the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) — are active in the country.
In May, the Burkino Faso army launched a crackdown in response to a militant attack. However, security forces are proving ineffective to stave off the violence which has displaced more than a million people in the past two years.
Asian Catholic groups have been actively helping Burkino Faso with humanitarian aid
According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency, between January 2019 and August 2020, 1 million people left their homes, causing the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.
To aid Burkina’s poorly equipped army, Defence of the Motherland (VDP), an anti-jihadist civilian defense force, was been set up in December 2019. Volunteers get training alongside the security forces.
An economically weak Burkino Faso also hosts some 20,000 refugees from neighbouring Mali.
Asian Catholic groups have been actively helping Burkino Faso with humanitarian aid.
The Korean bishops’ conference and Cardinal Andrew Yeom, the archbishop of Seoul, have developed fraternal solidarity with people in Burkino Faso.
The Archdiocese of Seoul recently sent US$200,000 in emergency aid to Christians and others in Burkina Faso.