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Fifty Burkina Women Abducted, Search Underway

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FILE: Capt. Ibrahim Traore - Mility Junta "President" of Burkina Faso. Taken Jan. 10, 2023

UPDATED TO SHOW COMMENTS BY UN OFFICIAL VOLKER TURK: Security forces are searching for about 50 women kidnapped by suspected jihadists in insurgency-hit northern Burkina Faso, a regional governor said on Monday.

Authorities say the women were taken on Thursday and Friday around Arbinda, in an area under blockade by jihadist groups and dependent on food supplies from outside. Civilians have often been targeted in Arbinda and surrounding areas.

"As soon as their disappearance was announced, efforts were launched to find all of these innocent victims safe and sound," Sahel regional governor Lieutenant-Colonel Rodolphe Sorgho said in a statement.

"While they were out looking for wild fruit, these wives, mothers and girls were wrongfully taken by armed men," he added.

Several women managed to escape and return to their villages to raise the alarm.

"All means available are being used, in the air and on the ground, to find these women," a security source told AFP. "Aircraft are flying over the area to detect any suspect movement."

According to local officials, the army and civilian auxiliaries had carried out unsuccessful sweeps of the area.

The landlocked West African country is one of the poorest and most volatile nations in the world.

Since 2015, it has battled an insurgency led by jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced around two million people.

"It's the first really big kidnapping since the security crisis began," a senior officer close to armed forces headquarters said."Everything must be done to avoid a tragedy or a recurrence."

France, Burkina Faso ally and former colonial power, issued a statement condemning the abduction and calling for the women's immediate release.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Monday called for the immediate and unconditional release of about 50 women abducted last week by suspected jihadists in Burkina Faso.

Turk, the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement: "I am alarmed that dozens of women out to search for food for their families were abducted in broad daylight, in what could be the first such attack deliberately targeting women in Burkina Faso.

"I call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the abducted women and for the national authorities to promptly conduct an effective, impartial and independent investigation to identify those responsible and hold them to account."

Disgruntled army officers have carried out two coups in Ouagadougou in the past year, in a show of anger at failures to roll back the insurgency.

The latest junta leader is 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore, who seized power on Sept. 30.

He has made security the regime's top priority, beefing up a volunteer militia and setting his sights on "reconquering territory occupied by the hordes of terrorists."

The United Nations says nearly one million people are living in blockaded areas in Burkina Faso's north and east.

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