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Trial for 13 Alleged Coup Plotters Under Way in Burkina Faso - 2004-04-06


A trial of 13 alleged coup plotters is under way in Burkina Faso. Among the defendants charged with breaching state security and seeking to overthrow the government are former members of the presidential guard, a pastor, a banker and an opposition leader.

The alleged leader of the plot is Captain Luther Ouali, who is also accused of treason. He allegedly sought support for the coup in Ivory Coast and Togo.

The trial opened at Ouagadougou's military tribunal.

Burkina's military prosecutor says the defendants plotted to attack long-standing President Blaise Compaore and his ministers during a government meeting last year.

A human-rights lawyer for the Senegalese-based watchdog group Raddho, Aboubacry Mbodj, says he does not believe there is enough proof to bring the case to trial.

"He says the trial might be intended as a mere show of force by President Compaore to quell any possible opposition within Burkina's military," said the lawyer.

The government says a sergeant who was among those arrested last October hanged himself in his jail cell. Four other military officers were released from jail for insufficient evidence.

Regional analyst Alex Vines, from the British-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, says he is worried Ivory Coast and Togo are being drawn into the case.

"This is an unfortunate theme that has been around the region now," said Mr. Vines. "I mean we have seen this with Liberia, that Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire actively sought the removal of Mr. Taylor. Relations with Burkina by both Togo and Cote d'Ivoire, Abidjan, are extremely poor [...] so that couldn't be necessarily a surprise in this current context."

Burkina Faso's government itself has been accused by Ivory Coast and Togo of backing Ivorian rebels controlling the north of the country and a leading opposition candidate in Togo's recent presidential elections.

President Compaore denies these allegations. He seized power in a coup in 1987, and went on to win popular elections in the 1990s. Sources inside Burkina's government say Mr. Compaore will run for another seven-year term in 2005.

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