France agrees to pull troops from Burkina Faso, UNHCR warns of vacuum in Sahel
France will withdraw its troops from Burkina Faso within a month in response to the request from the junta-ruled Burkinabe government, the French foreign ministry said Wednesday, Jan.25.
“According to the terms of the accord, the termination (of the 2018 agreement on the status of French armed forces present in the country) takes effect a month after reception of written notification,” a ministry spokeswoman said. “We will respect the terms of the agreement by honoring this request.”
About 400 French special forces are currently based in Burkina Faso in a deployment dubbed “Sabre,” part of a broader military presence to fight jihadists across the Sahel region. Burkina Faso has followed a similar course to neighboring Mali, falling out with Paris after a military coup brought a junta to power and the French presence became increasingly unpopular among the public. Although the Burkinabe government has assured Paris it will not follow Mali by turning to Russia’s Wagner Group to back up its army, a liaison team from the mercenary group has already visited.
Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has warned the departure of European forces from Mali has created a dangerous vacuum in the country. The French and European troops completed their withdrawal from Mali in November last year, ending a 14-year effort to keep the country safe from militant Islamist groups. UNHCR Representative in Mali Mohamed Toure says the impact of the vacuum created by the departure of Barkhane, the French-led counter-insurgency operation, is very severe amid the escalating violence and threats of armed groups. He says violence and threats by armed groups has triggered mass displacement in the region, including more than 3,700 local Malians and refugees from Burkina Faso who were forced to flee to the city of Gao in eastern Mali for safety.