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Catholics in a Burkinabe Village “on the alert” Following Monday Terrorist Attack: Priest

Map showing Kodyel village where terrorists killed at 30 civilians in an attack on May 3. Credit: Public Domain

Catholics living in Kodyel village in Burkina Faso’s Fada N’Gourma Diocese are “on the alert” following the Monday, May 3 terrorist attack that left at least 30 people dead and several others injured, a Priest in the Burkinabe Diocese has told ACI Africa.

“We are on the alert. We have always been on the alert. This attack did not particularly target Catholics but that has not changed our mindset. We have always sensitized our faithful to be on the alert,” the Director of Communication of Burkina Faso’s Fada N’Gourma Diocese, Fr. Etienne Tandamba, told ACI Africa May 6.

He explains, “This is because in previous attacks, the terrorists always targeted Christians. For this reason, in our Diocese, many activities are organized at secured places where the Priests and Christians live.”

“In the village where this attack took place, the Chapel was closed some months ago and the Christians advised to live their faith within families and through the Small Christian Communities for those who have not fled,” he further said.

Fr. Tandamba added, “Majority of our Christians have fled. These people say they have been prohibited from practicing their faith so it is better for them to relocate to friendly areas.”

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On May 3, gunmen raided  Kodyel village in the Komandjari province near the border between Burkina Faso and Niger, leaving at least 30 people dead and several others injured, France 24 reported.

According to the governor of the Fada N'Gourma region in Eastern Burkina Faso where the attack occurred, “two members of a civilian defence militia were killed by the unidentified attackers, who also torched a number of shops and ransacked the health centre.”

“In this painful circumstance, the Governor of the Eastern Region, on behalf of the government, strongly condemns this cowardly and barbaric attack,” Lieutenant-Colonel Saïdou T.P. Sanou further stated.

The May 3 attack comes barely a week after two Spanish journalists and an Irish conservationist were killed and a Burkinabe soldier went missing when jihadists ambushed their anti-poaching convoy.

A week ago, 18 people were killed in Yattakou village in the country’s Sahel region.

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Speaking about the reasons behind the May 3 attack, another Burkinabe Catholic Priest told ACI Africa that the terrorists "targeted a local vigilante group put in place to protect civilians."

“From my findings, there is a group of young people in Kodyel village who decided to form a vigilante group to fight terrorists. This group was infiltrated by the terrorists who attacked the village killing innocent civilians,” Fr. Jean-Emmanuel Konvolbo told ACI Africa May 6.

Fr. Konvolbo continued, “The situation in the area now is one of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of retaliation, fear to speak out or denounce the members of their communities who are working with the terrorists.”

Amid the persistent insecurity in the region, Fr. Konvolbo who serves as the Director of the Centre for the formation of the laity in Burkina Faso said, “The Church has been with the people. Our Bishops have always called for prayers for peace, reconciliation and for the victims, their families, and those fleeing violence to camps.”

“The Church has also taken precautionary measures to protect Priests and Congregations working in areas mostly affected by the violence,” he went on to say, and continued, “In the East for example, some four Parishes have been shut down.”

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He added that the Priests who were working in the Parishes that were closed down “have been relocated to secured areas (and) they only visit on Sundays to celebrate Mass with those courageous enough to stay back in the area.”

Amid the challenges in the country, Fr. Konvolbo said that the Catholic Church has been “doing a lot” to help Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). 

“Recently, a collection was organized in all Dioceses to help these people,” he said and explained, “The money raised was shared among the various camps. The Christians too have been very generous. Some have taken in some IDPs while others have provided food items, clothes and other basic necessities.”

In February, Bishops in Burkina Faso and Niger raised concerns about the increasing number of IDPs fleeing insecurity in the West African nation and called for peaceful coexistence between refugees and their host communities.

In a collective statement following the February 9-14 Plenary Assembly, members of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina-Niger (CEBN) appealed for dialogue.

“We are concerned about the still large number of IDPs whose collaboration with their hosts is not always smooth,” CEBN members said in their statement issued February 14 and shared with ACI Africa two days later.

To ensure peaceful coexistence between IDPs and their host communities, the members of CEBN recommended the strengthening of “a general dialogue” as well as an awareness campaign involving different leaders about peaceful co-existence.

In the May 6 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Konvolbo recommended that the “government and religious leaders need to come together to foster social cohesion.”

The 59-year-old Cleric said that social cohesion is threatened by, among other factors, the economic situation of the people of God in the country.

“Terrorists are taking advantage of the economic situation of our country to lure young people into joining them,” Fr. Konvolbo said and continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult for most Burkinabes who can no longer provide for their families.”

He posed in reference to those who have attacked villages, “Where do they get their weapons? How do they feed? Where do they get brand new motorbikes? Where do they get drones? This means there are people working in the shadows to fuel this violence for their personal interests. We need to identify and fish them out.”

“The East of our country is also very rich in gold. It becomes a fertile ground for traffickers who flood this area for their personal gains,” Fr. Konvolbo added.

On his part, the Communication officer for the Bishops' Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, Fr. Paul Dah told ACI Africa that “the terrorists have been able to exploit the state of poverty of the population, especially in rural areas, or the social unrest that has occurred here and there, in order to take root.”

“To the international community, we say that it is a real tragedy that is taking place in the Sahel and in Burkina Faso. And what is distressing is that the weapons of mass destruction used are not locally produced. So where do they come from and by whom do they end up in the hands of these killers?” Fr. Dah posed during the May 6 interview with ACI Africa.

Against this backdrop, Fr. Dah said, “It is necessary to examine the root cause of the problem, try to ameliorate the living conditions of the population before initiating dialogue.”

He invited the people of God in the Sahel regions to not lose hope but rather “intensify prayers for God to touch the hearts of the terrorists so they can repent from their evil ways for us to live in peace, love and harmony.”

“May God comfort the afflicted, heal the wounds of those injured in this conflict and bless and protect our nation,” Fr. Dah implored during the May 6 interview with ACI Africa.