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ECOWAS Chief Backs Burkina Fight

FILE: Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embalo speaks after being elected as ECOWAS Chairperson during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 61st Ordinary Session in Accra, Ghana, on July 3, 2022

The head of West Africa's regional bloc has expressed support for jihadist-hit Burkina Faso less than five months after an insurgency sparked by Islamist militants sparked a new coup, the Burkinabe government said.

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, current president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), made a one-day visit to Ouagadougou on Wednesday for talks with junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore.

In a statement issued after the talks, Traore's office said Embalo was "reassured by the steady transition" for returning the country to civilian rule.

Embalo also "reaffirmed the willingness of the West African organization to support and accompany Burkina Faso in the fight against terrorism."

Traore, 34, seized power on September 30 at the head of army officers angered at failures to roll back a bloody jihadist campaign.

Traore in September ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power the previous January.

Traore has promised to stand by Damiba's commitment to ECOWAS to hold elections and restore civilian rule by July 2024.

ECOWAS, a 15-member organization which includes Burkina Faso, is struggling with a string of military coups in its region and an escalating jihadist insurgency in the Sahel.

It has taken a relatively hard line with Guinea and Mali over coups there, invoking the threat of sanctions to try to speed up the return to civilian rule.

But it has been more supportive of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world, where two coups erupted last year.

All three countries have been suspended from the bloc's decision-making bodies.

Embalo "stressed the need to pursue contacts with ECOWAS heads of state and also with various partners, to provide timely support for our country in the face of security and humanitarian challenges," the Burkinabe statement said.

Thousands of people have died and more than two million people have fled their homes since jihadists began launching attacks on Burkina Faso from neighboring Mali in 2015. More than a third of the country's territory lies outside of government control.