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France Recalls Burkina Ambo

FILE: Luc Hallade (L), French ambassador to Burkina Faso, and General Laurent Michon (R), Commander of Barkhane Force, give a press conference, in Ouagadougou. Taken July 21, 2022.

Around 400 French special forces are deployed in the deeply troubled Sahel nation, helping in the fight against an escalating jihadist insurgency.

"In the context of the latest developments in Burkina Faso, we have decided to recall our ambassador to Paris for consultations on the state and perspectives of our bilateral relations," the foreign ministry said.

In diplomatic usage, the term "consultations" usually implies displeasure at the host country.

Burkina's junta in December had asked France to withdraw its envoy, Luc Hallade, over public comments he had made on the country's worsening security.

France sent a deputy foreign minister, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, to Ouagadougou for talks on January 10 but this failed to resolve tensions.

On Monday, Burkina said it had renounced a 2018 agreement on the deployment of French forces. On Wednesday, France said it would withdraw its troops in line with the decision.

The move follows a bustup in neighbouring Mali, where relations went into a downward spiral after a coup in 2020.

Mali's junta brought in Russian paramilitaries to support its beleaguered armed forces -- operators that France and others say are mercenaries from the Wagner Group.

Burkina is one of the poorest and most volatile nations in Africa.

Thousands of troops, police and civilians have been killed and around two million people have fled their homes since jihadists launched an insurgency from Mali in 2015.

More than a third of the country lies beyond the control of the government, and frustration within the army at the mounting toll triggered two coups last year.

France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, has been a strong ally against jihadists who have mounted a campaign in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Its Barkhane mission, launched in 2013, had at one point 5,100 personnel in the region.

The dispute with Mali -- coinciding with a wave of anti-French protests -- prompted a French pullout from that country last year.

Barkhane was officially wound up, although French forces have remained deployed in Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The 400 special forces troops in Burkina have been deployed under a task force called Sabre.

French sources said the personnel will leave the country by the end of February, and their equipment will be withdrawn by the end of April.

One option is for them to be deployed in neighbouring Niger, which already hosts nearly 2,000 French troops.

France is also a major provider of aid for Burkina, channelling nearly a billion euros ($1.1 billion) between 2011 and 2021, according to French figures.

The future of this assistance may be in doubt if Burkina seeks military ties with the Kremlin. French aid was cut off to Mali because of the ties with Wagner.

Zacharopoulu, in her visit this month, was "very clear about the consequences," a diplomatic source told AFP.