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Burkina Waving Flag Against Insurgents

FILE: Burkina Faso soldiers on patrol. Taken October 24, 2022
FILE: Burkina Faso soldiers on patrol. Taken October 24, 2022

With flags, appeals to patriotism and reminders of its revered revolutionary leader, Burkina Faso has been calling for volunteers to join a battered civilian force fighting ruthless jihadis.

On November 1, at ceremonies to mark the 62nd anniversary of the armed forces, Defence Minister Kassoum Coulibaly said it was time to ditch the perception that fighting "terrorism" was restricted only to the armed forces.

"Every citizen should be aware that this is essentially a war in which our common destiny is at stake, meaning the survival of our nation," he said.

The three-week drive has brought in more than 30,000 VDP recruits, aged from 18 to 77 and of varying backgrounds, from students and the unemployed to traditional chiefs and even ministers.

"We've lost our land, lost too many friends," said Ablasse Kabore, a butcher who came with his son to sign up at the meeting in Ouagadougou.

"I want to cry when I talk about it. I am ready to die for my country."

At least 14 people died in two separate attacks by jihadist groups in Burkina Faso's north, including eight civilian army auxiliaries, security and local sources said Tuesday.

"Armed individuals attacked the village of Safi early Monday," a security source told AFP, with the auxiliary VDP militia losing eight people. Six civilians were separately killed near Markoye, the source added.

Thousands of soldiers, police officers and civilians have been killed, around two million people in a population of some 21 million have fled their homes and more than a third of the country is outside government control.

The crisis has unleashed two military coups this year, driven by army officers angered at failures to roll back the threat. The authorities have been seeking 50,000 members for the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) -- an auxiliary force that supports the country's poorly equipped army in its seven-year-old struggle against the insurgents.

At a gathering in the regional governor's office in the capital Ouagadougou, the fervent tone was set by Alouna Traore -- a close aide to Burkina Faso's firebrand former leader, Thomas Sankara, who 35 years after his assassination remains idolized today.

Traore, the only survivor of the attack that gunned down Sankara and his inner circle, made a dramatic entrance on a small motorbike with a Burkinabe flag perched on its petrol tank.

At the age of 65, he was offering his services to the VDP.

"The fatherland is in danger," he declared, a black scarf around his neck.

"It calls on all its sons to join its defense and the patriotic and popular mobilization. Now is not the time to hesitate."

"Like president Sankara, who loved the country so much that he gave it everything, including his life, the love of one's country is an order for the sons of this country to sign up," he said. "It's an appointment with history."