(Bloomberg) -- Burkina Faso’s new military leadership plans to focus on reclaiming territory from jihadists after toppling the government and called for international support ahead of a key regional meeting.
The Economic Community of West African States is meeting virtually Friday to discuss its response to Monday’s coup in Burkina Faso, a West African gold producer that’s been rocked by Islamist attacks.
“It is clear that the main priority is security,” the coup leader, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said in his first televised address late Thursday on the state-run Radio Television du Burkina. “We must significantly reduce the zones under terrorist influence and the impact of violent extremism,” he said.
Soldiers toppled President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in a Jan. 24 coup, accusing him of failing to tackle an insurgency that’s been spreading in the region. Armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have made large swathes of the country ungovernable, leaving thousands dead and causing a refugee crisis that’s affected neighboring nations.
“Our country Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever,” Damiba said, donning military fatigues and a red beret. “This is why I call on the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible to resume its march toward development.”
The 15-nation economic bloc, known as Ecowas, now has to decide how to respond after imposing sanctions on Mali and Guinea following coups there last year. In both cases, the bloc first insisted on the unconditional release of the ousted leaders and a clear election timeline to restore democracy before putting in place trade embargoes and other sanctions.
Damiba didn’t provide a timeline in Thursday’s speech, saying that the Burkinabè people would decide “once the conditions are right,” without giving specifics. Ousted leader Kabore is still in the junta’s custody.
Ecowas’ response will likely influence the reaction of the larger international community. The U.S. has already signaled it may withdraw aid to the country, one of the world’s poorest despite being Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer.
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