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France Denies Burkina Meddling

FILE: French Secretary of State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships Chrysoula Zacharopoulou arrives to attend the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2022.

France's deputy foreign minister, on a visit to jihadist-torn Burkina Faso, on Tuesday denied accusations that Paris sought to meddle in its troubled former colony.

Speaking after talks with junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore, junior minister Chrysoula Zacharopoulou said France "is imposing nothing" on Burkina Faso.

"I didn't come here to influence any choice or decision -- no-one can dictate Burkina's choices," she said.

"In keeping with this message, France remains committed in every sphere -- humanitarian, security, development -- in line with the scope and structure desired by the Burkinabe government," she said.

French help is based on "listening, respect, humility", she insisted.

One of the poorest and most volatile countries in Africa, Burkina Faso is reeling from a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighboring Mali in 2015.

Thousands of people have been killed and around two million have fled their homes, igniting a security and humanitarian crisis that last year fueled two coups. More than a third of the country lies outside the government's control.

France, the traditional ally of French-speaking countries in the Sahel, is under mounting pressure from critics who accuse it of neo-colonialism and are demanding closer ties with Moscow.

In the September 30 putsch that brought 34-year-old Traore to power, violent protests targeted the French embassy in Ouagadougou and some demonstrators raised Russian flags.

In December, the junta ordered the suspension of Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing the station of having broadcast a "message of intimidation" from a "terrorist leader".

Last week, the French foreign ministry said it had received a letter from the junta asking for ambassador Luc Hallade to be replaced after he ruffled feathers with reports on Burkina's worsening security situation.

Poorly-trained and ill-equipped, Burkina's armed forces have paid a hefty toll in their years-long battle against the mobile jihadists.

France has offered help but in recent months stepped up the emphasis that this has to be a partnership that is also wished by the Burkinabe people.

However, the two juntas that took power last year have seemed loath to ask for French fire power.

"The last request (for French military help) dates back to July 2022," according to a source at French military headquarters.