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A military tribunal in Burkina Faso has opened the trial of 14 people, including former President Blaise Compaoré, for the murder of influential left-wing leader Thomas Sankara, who was ousted from his post as president by Compaoré during a coup in 1987.

Compaoré is accused of complicity, endangering state security and receiving corpses, according to military documents seen by the Associated Press. He is tried in absentia from Côte d’Ivoire where he has been in exile since his overthrow in 2014.

Côte d’Ivoire has refused to extradite Compaoré since Burkina Faso issued an arrest warrant for him six years ago. Compaoré’s former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, is among the accused and wore a camouflage military uniform at the start of the trial on Monday in Ouagadougou, the capital.

The trial, which is expected to last several months, is seen as an important step towards determining the circumstances surrounding the death of Sankara, who has been shrouded in secrecy for nearly 35 years.

Mariam Sankara, widow of the murdered leader, attended the opening of the trial.

“What the victims and I expect from this trial is truth and justice, because so far there are conflicting versions of what really happened,” said Prosper Farama, one lawyers for victims.

“The soldiers must understand once and for all that the power belongs to the people and that the putsches are not legitimate,” he said.

Compaoré’s lawyers have said the former president “will not surrender” or attend the trial because he was never called for questioning before being charged, according to a statement seen by the Associated Press.

Sankara, a charismatic Marxist leader with the reputation of “Africa s Che Guevara” had a lasting impact on the country, changing his name from French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “land of honest men” in Moore. local and Dioula languages.

Sankara’s reign was marked by a socialist program of nationalization and his government banned female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages. He remains highly regarded by left-wing Africanists for his challenge to the Western powers.

Sankara came to power in 1983 at the age of 33 after he and Compaoré led a leftist coup that toppled a moderate military faction. But in 1987, Compaoré turned on his former friend in a coup in which he seized power and then ruled the country with an iron fist for 27 years before being ousted in of an uprising. He now lives in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Those who worked with Sankara remember him as a committed leader with meticulous attention to detail.

“Every time he arrived at the presidential palace, before even entering his office, he would check the security guards to see if they were properly dressed … (he) made sure they were not wearing outfits torn or not ironed, “Ali Bernard Baro, a former Sankara security guard, told AP.

The lawsuit comes as Burkina Faso experiences an escalation in al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked violence that has left thousands dead, displaced more than 1.4 million people and divided a country once known for the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims.

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré made reconciliation the cornerstone of his November re-election campaign. Political analysts believe that the trial of those accused of Sankara’s death is a significant and symbolic step, its impact will be limited given that Compaoré, the main accused, will be absent, said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consulting firm.

Rights groups say the success of the trial will depend on its impartiality.

“This is an important victory for all those who fight against impunity in Burkina Faso”, declared Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkinabé Movement for Human Rights. “The other part of our expectations is that justice does its work with professionalism and independence. . ”

The Independent Gt

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