Dozens dead in Islamist attack in Burkina Faso: HRW

ABIDJAN (AFP) - An offensive by Islamists in northern Burkina Faso has left dozens of civilians dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, Human Rights Watch said on Friday (March 22).

"Atrocities by Islamist armed groups in Burkina Faso's northern Sahel region and by security forces during counter-terrorism operations have left scores dead and created widespread fear and displacement," the group said in a 62-page report.

"The violence has forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee since early 2019," it said.

"Scores of people have been murdered in what amounts to a dramatic deterioration in the rights situation in northern Burkina Faso," said Ms Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch.

"Villagers are living in fear as both armed Islamists and government forces have demonstrated utter disregard for human life."

More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the poor former French colony, over half of them since the start of 2019, officials have said.

Around 4.3 million people have been driven from their homes in the worsening violence that has engulfed the entire Sahel region, including one million over the past year, according to UN humanitarian officials.

Islamist groups have gained ground in central Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, while Chad is battling unrest on its borders.

Since 2015, more than 300 people have been killed, typically in hit-and-run raids, and the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou has been hit three times.