Burkina Faso’s army said on Wednesday that civilians had been killed in an air strike against jihadists, as local inhabitants reported around 30 people had died.
In a statement, army headquarters said “targeted actions” were carried out in the east on Monday against “terrorist groups responsible for several atrocities.”
“During these operations, which enabled several dozen terrorists to be neutralized, the strikes unfortunately caused collateral victims among the civilian population,” it said.
The civilians were close to a jihadist hideout on the Kompienga-Pognoa highway when they were hit by “projectiles,” the text said.
It gave no other details, but expressed “sincere condolences” to relatives of the dead and said an inquiry had been launched.
Local residents said around 30 people had died, most of whom were women.
“They had gathered for the inauguration of a mill when the tragedy happened,” said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Monday’s operations were undertaken at Djamanga, Djabiga, Mandeni, Bounou, Obiagou, and Pognoa-Sankoado, the army statement said.
The military typically uses the term “terrorist” for armed groups behind a ruthless jihadist insurgency.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso first came under attack in 2015 from militants operating in neighboring Mali.
Since then thousands of people have died, around two million have been displaced and more than a third of the country’s territory lies outside government control, according to official figures.
Attacks have increased since the start of the year, despite a coup by colonels whose declared priority is to restore security.
Air raids have been increasingly used against the jihadists in recent months.
The army has previously acknowledged the death of a civilian which it said occurred on June 11 during a strike on armed traffickers in the south. Military prosecutors have opened an inquiry.
Meanwhile, inhabitants of a town in northern Burkina which has been cut off by jihadists said that food was running out.
Islamist militants on June 25 damaged a bridge providing the only road access to the town of Sebba, the administrative seat of Yagha province.
Residents swiftly repaired the damage but the bridge was attacked again last week and destroyed, leaving Sebba cut off from the rest of the country.
Local traders have commissioned 14 trucks to bring in supplies, but they are stranded in the town of Dori.
“The food situation is critical,” Sebba inhabitant Abdoulaye Ly told AFP.
“We’ve sounded the alarm, but at the moment we don’t see the light at the time of the tunnel… people here justifiably feel abandoned.”
MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders) confirmed that hunger was worsening.
“There is a desperate need for food — people are eating leaves every day,” said the charity’s project manager in Burkina, Ulrich Crepin Namfeibona.
“If really nothing is done to give these people food, in the coming days we could be witnessing a disaster, a nutrition crisis which will hit children most of all.”
Sebba, with a population of 30,000, had become a haven for many people in Yaghan who have fled their homes because of jihadist attacks.