OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) - Gunmen on Saturday kidnapped a Romanian security guard from a mine in northern Burkina Faso and fled with him towards the border with Mali, security sources in both countries said.
The man was seized when five armed men attacked the manganese mine in Tambao, a high-ranking Burkinabe army official said, adding that one police officer was “badly injured” in the assault.
He described the gunmen as wearing turbans and resembling ethnic Tuareg nomads.
“The perpetrators of the abduction were heading for the Malian border, we have sent men to try to intercept them,” a Malian security source said.
The attackers took the Romanian national after shooting at the police officer who was with him at the time, according to the local gendarmerie in the impoverished west African country.
“First they fired at the policeman, seriously injuring him, before kidnapping the Romanian man who was not armed,” a Burkinabe police official told AFP.
Kidnappings of foreigners for ransom occasionally occur in neighbouring Mali and Niger, but not usually in Burkina Faso.
The Tambao mine, run by Australian-Romanian businessman Frank Timis’s Pan African Minerals, is estimated to contain more than 100 million tonnes of manganese.
It is located some 350km from Mali’s main northern city of Gao, where a Red Cross worker was killed in am Islamic militant attack on Monday.
Divided into rival armed factions, plagued by drug trafficking and at the mercy of Islamic radicals, Mali’s desert north has struggled for stability since the west African nation gained independence in 1960.
Mali descended into crisis in January 2012 when an insurgency by Tuareg rebels led to a coup in the capital Bamako. Militants linked to Al-Qaeda then overpowered the Tuareg to seize control of Mali’s north.
A French-led military operation launched in January 2013 routed the extremists but the Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants remain active throughout the north-east of the country.
Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore, who was ousted in a popular revolt in October after 27 years in power, had acted as a mediator in Mali between the government and Tuareg rebels.
After months of tough negotiations, the Malian government in March committed to a peace deal with the rebels.
The agreement has been signed by Mali’s government and smaller armed groups but Tuareg-led rebels under the banner of the Coordination for the Movements of Azawad have sought more talks.