File photo: Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, January 27, 2022. AP
A junta spokesman later announced on state television that their leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, officially has been named head of state following the Friday coup that ousted Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba.
Their power grab marked Burkina Faso's second military coup this year, deepening fears that the political chaos could divert attention from an Islamic insurgency whose violence has killed thousands and forced 2 million to flee their homes. It followed unrest in Ouagadougou, the capital, in which mobs on Saturday attacked the French embassy and other French-related sites, wrongly believing that they were sheltering Damiba.
Along with agreeing not to harm or prosecute him, Damiba also asked Traore and the new junta leadership to respect the commitments already made to the West African regional bloc ECOWAS. Damiba, who came to power in a coup last January, had recently reached an agreement to hold an election by 2024.
"President Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba proposed his own resignation in order to avoid clashes,'' said Hamidou Yameogo, a spokesman for the mediation efforts.
Traore accepted the conditions, religious leaders said, but there was no immediate confirmation by Damiba himself of an official resignation. His whereabouts have remained unknown since the Friday night coup.
Amid the mediation, the new junta leadership also called for an end to the unrest.
In a statement broadcast on state television, junta spokesman Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho called on people to "desist from any act of violence and vandalism" especially those against the French Embassy or the French military base.
Anti-French sentiment rose sharply after the new junta alleged that interim president Damiba was sheltering at a French military base following his ouster. France vehemently denied the allegation, but soon protesters with torches thronged the perimeter of the French Embassy in Ouagadougou.
Saturday's violence was condemned by the French Foreign Ministry, which denied any involvement in the rapidly developing events. French Institutes in Ouagadougou and the country's second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, had also been targeted and French citizens were urged to be very cautious.
"The situation is very volatile in Burkina Faso,'' a French spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Damiba came to power in January promising to secure the country from jihadi violence. However, the situation only deteriorated as jihadis imposed blockades on towns and have intensified attacks. Last week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in Gaskinde commune in the Sahel. The group of officers led by Traore said Friday that Damiba had failed and was being removed.
To some in Burkina Faso's military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former colonizer France, which maintains a military presence in Africa's Sahel region to help countries fight Islamic extremists.
Some who support the new coup leader, Traore, have called on Burkina Faso's government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.
In neighboring Mali, the coup leader has invited Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help with security, a move than has drawn global condemnation and accusations of human rights abuses.
Conflict analysts say Damiba was probably too optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term but that a change at the top didn't mean that the country's security situation would improve.
"The problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted,'' said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, adding that "militant groups will most likely continue to exploit" the country's political disarray.
The international community widely condemned the ouster of Damiba, who himself overthrew the country's democratically elected president in January.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States "is deeply concerned by events in Burkina Faso.''
"We call on those responsible to de-escalate the situation, prevent harm to citizens and soldiers, and return to a constitutional order,'' he said.
The African Union and the West African region bloc known as ECOWAS also sharply criticized the developments, urging the military to "avoid escalation and in all circumstances to protect civilians.''