Shots rang out before dawn on Friday around Burkina Faso’s presidential palace and headquarters of the military junta, which itself seized power in a coup last January, witnesses told AFP.
The government said the developing situation was linked to an “internal crisis in the army”, after AFP journalists saw troops block several main roads in the capital Ouagadougou.
Government spokesman Lionel Bilgo told AFP that “talks are continuing to try to reach a settlement without trouble.”
During the morning more shots were heard by an AFP video journalist in the Ouaga 2000 neighbourhood that houses both the presidential and military junta headquarters.
“I heard heavy detonations around 4:30 am (0430 GMT) and now the roads around my home have been sealed off by military vehicles,” said a resident who lives close to the presidential palace.
Bilgo said the “crisis” was based on claims related to salaries, and that junta leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was taking part in discussions with the men.
A government source had earlier confirmed that Damiba was “in a safe place”.
The state television was cut for several hours, broadcasting a blank screen for several hours saying: “no video signal”.
A second government source said, “The negotiations are continuing… the soldiers are maintaining pressure through their presence at strategic points they occupied this morning” in the capital.
Soldiers were seen at the city’s main crossroads, especially in Ouaga 2000 but also outside the state television centre, an AFP journalist said.
In Brussels, the EU voiced “concern” at events in the Burkina capital.
“A military movement was observed from 04:30 this morning. The situation still remains particularly confused,” said spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.
– Rein in jihadists –
Violence has long wracked the landlocked west African country where Damiba took power in a January coup, ousting elected leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
Damiba has pledged to restore civilian rule within two years and to defeat the armed factions.
As in bordering countries, insurgents affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have stoked the unrest.
Damiba earlier this month sacked his defence minister and assumed the role himself.
The mini-shuffle, the first since the appointment of a transitional government in March, saw only one new minister introduced — Colonel-Major Silas Keita was named minister delegate in charge of national defence and promoted to brigadier general.
Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread into Burkina Faso, which has since become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel.
Attacks have increased since the start of the year, despite the junta’s vow to make security its top priority.
– Bloody September –
September has been particularly bloody.
On Monday, suspected jihadists attacked a convoy carrying supplies to the town of Djibo in the north of the country. The government said 11 soldiers were killed and around 50 civilians were missing.
On September 5 an improvised explosive device struck a supply convoy in the north killing 35 civilians dead and wounding 37.
In June, 86 civilians died in a massacre at Seytenga, near the border with Niger.
More than 40 percent of Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is outside government control.
Much of the impoverished Sahel region is battling the insurgency.
Starting in northern Mali in 2012, the insurgents attacked neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015. The violence has in recent years begun to spill over into coastal states Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin.
“The deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and Mali has made the north of the coastal countries the new front line against armed groups operating in the Sahel,” the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank, said in a report in April.
French forces supported Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after falling out with the Malian junta in the wake of two military coups since 2020.
The last French troops from operation Barkhane left last month. Despite the exit from Mali, Macron insists Paris remains committed to the “fight against terrorism” in West Africa.