Soldier admits role in 1987 assassination of Burkina Faso revolutionary leader Sankara

A former army soldier admitted in a trial Tuesday that he had helped transport an assault squad to assassinate Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara 34 years ago.

The trial unfolding in a military court in Ouagadougou is being closely watched by the Burkina Faso public, many of whom hope it will shed light on one of their country’s darkest chapters.

Fourteen people are on trial for the 1987 murder in which Sankara and 12 others were killed in a hail of bullets at a high-level government meeting.

The defendants include Sankara’s friend and former comrade in arms, Blaise Compaore, who came to power after the bloodbath.

In court testimony, 62-year-old former private Yamba Elise Ilboudo admitted a charge of complicity in endangering state security.

But he said his actions were not premeditated: he had not participated in any meeting to plan the murder, nor had he participated in the shooting.

He said that on the day of the coup on October 15, 1987, he was “at Blaise Compaore’s house” with other men.

“We were reporting to Hyacinthe Kafando, as head of security,” Ilboudo said.

Kafando, who became a chief petty officer in Compaore’s presidential guard after the coup, was reportedly in charge of the strike squad. Is fleeing.

Compaore has always denied the suspicions that he himself designed the murder and, in the same way, is being tried in absentia.

Ilboudo said Kafando told him to drive to the meeting Sankara attended.

When they arrived, Kafando and another individual named Maiga, “who was driving Blaise Compaore’s car, came out and opened fire,” he testified.

Kafando then ordered the men in the two cars to get out.

Some “went to the back of the building where President Sankara was,” Ilboudo said.

He said he remained in the car during what happened next and did not open fire.

Dark episode

Compaore ruled for 27 years before being deposed by a popular uprising in 2014 and fleeing to neighboring Ivory Coast.

Another prominent defendant is Compaore’s former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, who once led the elite Presidential Security Regiment.

Compaore and Diendere face charges of complicity in murder, damage to state security and complicity in the concealment of bodies.

Diendere is already serving a 20-year sentence for plotting a 2015 plot against the transitional government that followed Compaore’s impeachment.

Burkina Faso has long been burdened by silence about the Sankara assassination and many are angry that the killers have gone unpunished.

Sankara, a Marxist-Leninist, was a captain in the army when he came to power in a 1983 coup at just 33 years old.

A charismatic leader who criticized capitalism, he dismissed the name of the country of Upper Volta, a legacy of the French colonial era, and renamed it Burkina Faso, which means “the land of honest men.”

He went ahead with a socialist agenda of nationalizations and outlawed female genital mutilation, polygamy, and forced marriages.


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