Burkina Faso expels French diplomats for 'subversive activities'

April 19, 2024 04:25 am | Updated 04:25 am IST - Ouagadougou

Burkina Faso has expelled three French diplomats for "subversive activities", according to a foreign ministry note seen by AFP on Thursday, in a further sign of mounting tensions between the African state and its former colonial master.

The three were declared "persona non grata" and told to leave the country in 48 hours, said a foreign ministry note dated Tuesday that was sent to the French embassy.

According to the Burkina ministry, the diplomats are Gwenaelle Habouzit, Herve Fournier and Guillaume Reisacher.

The French government on Thursday said there were no grounds for the "unfounded" allegations.

"There were no legitimate grounds for the Burkinabe authorities' decision. We can only deplore it," French foreign ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine said.

Since coming to power in a September 2022 coup, the junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traore has distanced the West African nation from France, which ruled the country until 1960.

The French ambassador was withdrawn after the takeover, Burkina Faso cancelled a 1961 military accord between the two countries, ordered a withdrawal of French troops and turned increasingly to Russia for security support.

A number of French media outlets have been banned, while Russia has also agreed to build a nuclear power station for the African country.

Allegations of espionage

On December 1, four French officials were arrested, charged and imprisoned in the capital Ouagadougou, according to a French source.

The Burkinabe authorities said they were intelligence agents, but the French source said they were IT support staff.

The four are now under house arrest, according to Burkina security sources.

In December 2022, Ouagadougou expelled two French nationals working for a Burkina Faso company for alleged espionage.

France has ended anti-jihadist military missions in Mali and Burkina Faso and more recently began to withdraw forces from Niger -- all three countries where juntas now rule following coups.

For several years, all three countries have faced recurrent jihadist attacks by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

In Burkina Faso alone, around 20,000 people have been killed and around two million people have been displaced since 2015.

The three military regimes formed a defence and economic pact, the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), in September, and in February announced their withdrawal from the West African bloc ECOWAS.

Mali's Defence Minister Abdoulaye Diop has said that the alliance is a "combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries" and that its priority was to "fight against terrorism in the three countries".

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