50 women abducted by Islamist jihadists in Burkina Faso

Suspected jihadists have abducted roughly 50 women in insurgency-wracked northern Burkina Faso, local officials and residents told AFP on Sunday.

Roughly 40 were seized about a dozen kilometres (seven miles) southeast of Arbinda on Thursday and about 20 others were abducted on Friday to the north of the town, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

Several managed to escape and return to their villages to raise the alarm, they said.

The landlocked West African country is one of the poorest and most volatile nations in the world.

Since 2015, it has been grappling with an insurgency led by jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has killed tens of thousands and displaced around two million people.

“The women got together to go and gather leaves and wild fruits in the bush because there is nothing left to eat,” said one resident, adding that they had left with their carts on Thursday.

“On Thursday evening, when they didn’t come back, we thought that their carts had had a problem. But three survivors came back to tell us what happened,” said another resident.

The same person said about 20 women, who had not known about the first abduction, were subsequently taken the next day, eight kilometres north of Arbinda.

“In both groups, some women managed to escape and returned to the village on foot,” the resident added. “We believe that the kidnappers took them to their bases.”

‘Humanitarian disaster’

According to local officials who confirmed the abductions, the army and its civilian auxiliaries have carried out unsuccessful sweeps of the area.

Arbinda is in the Sahel region of northern Burkina Faso, an area under blockade by jihadist groups and with limited food supplies.

The town and surrounding areas are regularly beset by jihadist attacks which often target civilians.

In August 2021, 80 people, including 65 civilians were killed in an attack on a convoy taking them to Arbinda.

In December 2019, 35 civilians were among a group of 42 people who died in an attack on the town itself.

In many parts of Burkina, crops can longer be cultivated because of the conflict.

The population of Arbinda is heavily dependent on outside food supplies. In November 2022, Idrissa Badini, a civil society spokesman, raised alarm about the situation in Arbinda: “The population, which has used up its reserves, is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

The United Nations says nearly one million people are living in blockaded areas in the north and east.

Disgruntled army officers have carried out two coups this year in a show of anger at failures to roll back the insurgency.

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