This is an issue that further inflames the already tense relationship between Paris and Ouagadougou. Four French nationals were arrested in the capital of Burkina Faso in early December, accused by the authorities of being intelligence agents who had come to carry out espionage activities, we learned on Tuesday (December 19th), according to concordant sources.

"We are in the process of verifying the real field work of four French nationals presented as agents of the DGSE (Editor's note: External Intelligence). They are currently before investigators," a Burkinabe source said.

Contacted by AFP, a French diplomatic source confirmed the arrest of the four men "on 1 December". "French officials, holders of diplomatic passports and visas" who "were in Burkina Faso to carry out a computer maintenance operation for the benefit of the France embassy," she said.

Photos of the presidency and "suspicious" material

"On December 14, they were indicted and transferred to the Ouagadougou prison," the source added, adding that "the consulate general of France was able to exercise consular protection and visit them."

"The French government takes note of the ongoing legal proceedings, but rejects accusations that these technicians were sent to Burkina Faso for reasons other than their computer maintenance work. He demands their return to France without delay," the diplomatic source concluded.

According to information obtained by France 24, the Burkinabe authorities accuse the four Frenchmen of a non-compliant administrative situation, of having taken photos of the presidency or of possessing suspicious equipment. Contacted by France 24, a French source close to the case denounces fanciful accusations.

"The mission of these people was well known to the Burkinabe authorities, they did not enter the territory in secret," she said. The photos of the presidency are "tourist photos among dozens of others" while the incriminated material refers to "very common extraction software and user apps", the same source said. The accusations against the four Frenchmen are akin to "a maneuver to justify the positions and accusations of the authorities against France," she concludes.

Following this arrest, the Burkinian authorities expelled members of the DGSE post present in the country for "subversive activities". A dozen people, according to the monthly Jeune Afrique, who "continued to cooperate with the Burkinabe services despite the tensions between Paris and Ouagadougou."

Relations at half-mast

Relations between France and Burkina Faso have deteriorated considerably since Captain Ibrahim Traoré came to power in September 2022 in a coup d'état - the second in eight months.

Ouagadougou in March denounced a 1961 military agreement with France, after securing the withdrawal of French forces. France's ambassador in Ouagadougou, recalled after the September 2022 coup, has not been replaced since.

Burkina Faso has also suspended several French media outlets including Le Monde, Radio France internationale, France 24, Jeune Afrique and LCI.

In its desire to diversify its partnerships, Burkina Faso has turned to Russia this year. In addition to closer ties in the military field, Russia has promised to build a nuclear power plant in Burkina Faso.

In November, Ouagadougou was among the first African countries to receive Russian grain for free, as promised a few months earlier by Vladimir Putin. Burkina Faso has also moved closer to its two neighbours, Mali and Niger, which are also governed by military regimes.

The three countries have been facing recurrent jihadist attacks for several years by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. In Burkina alone, they have killed more than 17,000 civilians and soldiers since 2015.

With AFP

Read alsoIn Burkina Faso, the Russian presence "has been increasing since November 10"

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