Bishops of Burkina Faso and Niger call for improved security in the Sahel region

The Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger (CEBN) expresses concern about the growing rate of insecurity in the Sahel region and calls on authorities to make urgent efforts to restore calm amid a spate of violent attacks.

By Vatican News staff writer

The Bishops of Burkina Faso and Niger have joined their voices to growing calls for improved security in the region, following an attack by armed persons on the residents of the village of northern Burkina Faso on June 5, the country’s worst attack in recent years.

The CEBN made this call during its ordinary plenary assembly which took place in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital from 7 – 12 June.

Pope Francis’ closeness

Following news of the deadly attack, Pope Francis, during the Angelus prayer on 6 June, expressed sorrow for the victims of the killings.

“I wish to assure you of my prayers for the victims of the massacre which took place on the night of Friday to Saturday in a small town in Burkina Faso,” said the Holy Father.

The Pope was referring to the attack on the residents of Solhan in Yagha province bordering Niger during which armed men killed at least 160 people, burnt homes and a local market in a raid.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.

Bishops appeal to authorities

The assembly welcomed with gratitude the Holy Father’s message of condolences, delivered by Archbishop Michael Francis Crotty, the Apostolic Nuncio at the beginning of the sessions.

The Bishops then called on authorities to “manage the situation more vigorously and rigorously, as the future and the survival of the Church in the Sahel, in particular, depends on it.”

They noted that “the security context, more worrying than ever with its share of displaced persons, appears to be such that Sahelians are no longer certain of the future of the Sahel.”

“For pastors in this part of Burkina Faso, as elsewhere in the East, Central-North, North, Boucle du Mouhoun and Cascades regions, in particular, it is a great suffering not to be able to reach the faithful in some places, or to see them flee from terrorist attacks without any guarantee of a better future.”

Peacekeeping efforts

Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers in the region, attacks by Islamist extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State are increasingly common in the Sahel region. The violence has displaced more than 1.14 million people in over two years.

In light of this, the Bishops noted that even though considerable efforts have been made in the fight against terrorism, the horrible attacks in Solhan, which has put the citizens in a state of shock, “makes the terrorist hydra appear in a light that kills the optimism that was beginning to be reborn among the people.”

They added that “the night of horror” in Solhan raises questions about the interests of so many foreign forces present in the region if the citizens are not feeling more secure, with many displaced persons facing imminent increased distress especially with the onset of the cold season.

“This observation is a great concern of the populations; a concern that we share. When will the end of the tunnel come?” the Bishops asked.

Concluding, the CEBN offered prayers for the repose of the souls of the victims and implored Our Lady, Queen of Peace, to accompany the people on the path to true peace which is “a gift of God and the fruit of human efforts.”