Paris announced on Wednesday that French troops would leave Burkina Faso within a month, after the Burkinabé government officially repudiated the 2018 status of forces agreement. Special forces soldiers from the former colonial power had been deployed in this West African country, as part of a counter-terrorism mission.
The French foreign ministry officially received Ouagadougou’s approach on Tuesday, giving France 30 days’ notice to withdraw.
“We will respect the terms of the agreement by honoring this request,” specifies the Quai d’Orsay in a press release. According to AFP, the troops will leave Burkina Faso at the end of February, and their equipment will follow at the end of April.
An estimated 400 French soldiers have been in Burkina Faso for years as part of Operation Saber, a counter-insurgency targeting jihadists in former African colonies. Frustrated by the unsuccessful campaign, the Burkinabe military overthrew the civilian president in a coup last January. French-trained Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba was later overthrown by Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Ouagadougou last Friday to demand the departure of the French. Some chanted anti-French slogans, while others waved Russian flags. According to the Burkina Information Agency, the Traoré government had taken the decision to expel the former colonial power two days earlier. France responded by seeking clarification from the former colony.
Burkina Faso’s move comes less than six months after neighbor Mali also sent French troops to pack. Paris had fought the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates for nine years. France blamed Russia for Mali’s reversal.
The military government in Bamako has since reached out to Russian private military company Wagner Group, as has the Central African Republic. The Burkinabé government has not yet concluded an agreement with Wagner.
Burkina Faso has a population of around 20 million and is landlocked between Mali and Niger to the north, and Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to the south. All were French colonies at one time except Ghana which had been ruled by the British.
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