Around 2 am on the night of June 5th, residents of the Solhan village in northern Burkina Faso were met with a barrage of bullets after a group of attackers opened fire in what is considered the deadliest attack the nation has seen since the onset of violent militant attacks in 2015.
The gunmen managed to bypass a group of volunteer security personnel protecting the village and began to shoot at the residents. The attackers then proceeded to burn down several homes and buildings, including the local market. A local source speaking to AFP news, according to the BBC, has claimed that locals in the Solhan region have begun exhuming bodies and burying them after they’ve been transported. Initial reports estimated the death toll to be around 132, including seven children, however, as of June 6th, the death toll has risen to at least 160 people after local officials recovered bodies from what they have described as three mass graves.
Approximately 40 other residents have been critically injured in the attack, and it is feared the death toll will rise as more succumb to their injuries. According to an anonymous nearby resident speaking to Al Jazeera, many of the injured victims were brought to a clinic in the town of Sebba, around 12km away from Solhan. They went on to say that they witnessed family members having to care for their injured loved ones and that many are attempting to flee from Solhan to Sebba. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet.
The massacre that occurred in Solhan has garnered mass outrage, both at the local and international levels.
Burkinabé President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has issued a statement in which he describes the attacks as “barbaric”, and offers his condolences to the victims affected by the tragedy. Kaboré also announced a 72-hour period of mourning for citizens of Burkina Faso. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also stated spokesman Stephane Dujarric, in which he “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to the Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll.” Other public figures such as Pope Francis, and UK High Commissioner to Ghana Iain Walker have publicly expressed their condolences to the victims in Solhan.
As the violence in the Sahel region continues to increase, many are forced to realize that mass killings such as what has occurred in Solhan are becoming commonplace. Late on Friday before the Solhan attack, 13 people and one soldier were killed in a separate attack in the Tadaryat village in northern Burkina Faso. Earlier this year in March, over 137 people were killed in a mass shooting in the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat, and Wistane in Niger, for which the country observed a national three-day period of mourning as well. Countries that have been the most affected by militant insurgency have been those in the Sahel region, including Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali. The mounting violence has now put pressure on other West African countries, such as bordering Ghana and Ivory Coast, to prepare for a potential attack if militants expand and spread beyond the Sahel region.
Aside from the devastating death tolls, the aftermath of the violence has been equally devastating. Burkina Faso has one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in the world, currently estimated to have over one million people displaced and over three million in need of assistance. The security given to residents in the Sahel region has proven ineffective time and time again. The Burkinabé military created the Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland (VDP) is a coalition of volunteers (the same as those who were present during Solhan attack) who enter vulnerable areas and provide protection for the people as a way of allowing the government to deploy more forces to focus on other issues. Despite military backing, volunteers only receive about two weeks of training before they are sent out to work and expected to protect entire villages from large groups of armed men. The only other protection comes from French troops deployed into the area and some support from international groups, however, the violence appears to be on an upward trend with no sign of slowing.
The Sahel region is in desperate need of adequate protection for its people and more support from the international community, and until then we are faced with the sad reality that innocent people will continue to die.
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