The army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso said toppled military leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base”.
Gunshots rang out Saturday in the capital Ouagadougou amid signs of lingering tensions a day after the officers overthrew the man who seized power in a coup only nine months earlier.
“[Damiba] is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counteroffensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” the coup-makers said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new leader.
France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied the allegation. An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, the French embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours”.
The embassy also denied “rumours that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military”.
A fire was seen at the French embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital and several shots were heard as protesters took to the streets.
Traore was previously head of a special forces unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya. Damiba’s whereabouts, meanwhile, remain unknown.
The chief of staff of Burkina Faso’s army called on opposing factions to cease hostilities and continue talks, calling the situation “an internal crisis within the National Armed Forces”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the seizure of power and called “on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue”, his spokesman said in a statement.
“Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” it said.
Damiba came to power in a coup in January. He installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back armed groups.
With much of the Sahel region battling a growing rebellion, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.
France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin, 30km (19 miles) from Ouagadougou.
The situation in Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday. Helicopters hovered above the city and shops that had opened for business in the morning shut their doors.
The European Union and the African Union (AU) added their voices to a chorus of global condemnation of the second coup this year in the deeply poor and restive West African country.
“The chairperson calls upon the military to immediately and totally refrain from any acts of violence or threats to the civilian population, civil liberties, human rights,” the AU said in a statement.
The junior officers who toppled Damiba said he had failed to prevent armed group attacks in the country.
On Friday, pre-dawn gunfire erupted around the presidential palace. Within hours, a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce Damiba’s removal.
The new leaders swiftly suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the transitional government and legislative assembly and instituted a 9pm-5am curfew.