Heavy gunfire erupted inside a Burkina Faso military base early Sunday, sparking fears that a coup was under way in the West African country. This reporter managed to enter the base where a mutiny was taking place, after being detained by the soldiers. They later released him with a list of demands.
Arriving at Ouagadougou’s largest military base, Camp Sangoule Lamizana, the sounds of sporadic gunfire could be heard coming from inside. As we tried to approach, mutinous soldiers, their faces covered with bandanas, fired shots in the air and shouted at us to leave. I was with a journalist from the Associated Press.
We rode to a nearby highway which runs the length of the base to try to get some elevated shots. Soldiers outside the walls of the camp spotted us and we drove away quickly, but were soon stopped by troops who walked out into the road and fired shots in the air, before training their guns on us.
We threw our hands up. Shouting in French, the soldiers took our bags, cameras and our motorcycle and walked us along the wall of the camp to a highway intersection where a crowd of about 100 people, some waving Burkinabe flags, had gathered.
Shortly after that, around 20 soldiers fired into the air and shouted at the crowd to move back.
While some soldiers were shouting at us, others told us it was going to be okay, and they didn’t intend to harm us. I began to wonder if we were being taken hostage.
At the entrance to the base, soldiers blockaded the gates with armored vehicles. They took us inside and reunited us with our camera equipment and motorcycle.
After around 15 minutes, they told us they were free to go, but not before they called one of the organizers of the mutiny on a phone to give us their list of demands.
This is a recording of what was said…
The speaker said, “We want enough troops to assist us in the fight against terrorism — more money and more troops.”
The soldiers also said they wanted the chief of the intelligence services and the military chief of staff to be replaced by the military.
They asked for better care of the wounded and family of soldiers who have died in the conflict, better training which is adapted to terror threats and the organization of a permanent military unit on the front lines, not one that changes with rotations.
The demands were given by a captain, who declined to be named.
Burkina Faso has been embroiled in a conflict with terror groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State since 2015. Rumors of a coup have been rife for weeks after a military base in the north of the country was overrun by terrorists killing 49 military members.
President Roch Kabore fired members of his Cabinet and military leadership in December in response.
On January 11th authorities announced they had arrested members of the military who were planning to ‘destabilize the institutions of the republic’ causing many analysts to speculate a coup plot had been foiled.
Speaking on national television Sunday morning, the Burkinabe defense minister, Aimé Barthélemy Simporé, stated that the president had not been detained as rumored. He also said the motive behind the gunfire was still not clear.
Inside the base, however, it was clear the mutineers had taken over the camp entirely and did not intend to relinquish control until their demands were met.
By the time we left the base, mobile internet networks had been cut and information about further developments related to the mutiny was scarce.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly used the term "arm" instead of "harm" in paragraph 6.