Abducted Burkina women escape Islamist militants through thicket
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Piercing thorns and stones underfoot did not stop the young woman as she charged through thickets, baby strapped to her back, fleeing armed militants who had kidnapped her with dozens of others in northern Burkina Faso last week.
Now back home in the town of Arbinda along with a few who also managed to escape, the 20-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous for fear over her safety, recounted the ordeal that started when unknown men fired gunshots and then closed in on her as she was scouring the bush for food.
Burkina Faso authorities said about 50 women were kidnapped on Jan. 12 and 13 in Arbinda district, part of the restive Soum province -- a new tactic by Islamist insurgents whose brutal attacks blight the West African country.
The escapee said the militants forced the women to walk through the bush for a whole day.
"The next morning they assembled us again ... It was at this moment that some of us decided to take a risk. Those who were lucky managed to escape," she said.
Her 40-year-old mother is still in the hands of the jihadists, she said.
Another survivor, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters the abductors gathered women into groups and made them shepherd stolen sheep to disguise what was happening.
"I managed to hide in a ravine with another (woman)," the second woman said. "We got back to the village at nightfall. Others returned the following morning," she said.
The insurgency linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State spread into Burkina Faso from neighbouring Mali in 2015. The jihadists have seized swathes of territory across West Africa's Sahel region over the past decade and continue to gain ground.
Thousands have been killed and over 2.7 million displaced by the unrest, which has contributed to growing food insecurity and to discontent that led to military coups in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso's arid north, a hotbed of jihadist activity, has been particularly hard hit. Insurgents there have blocked roads and attacked convoys delivering supplies to trapped citizens.
Protesters marched in Arbinda on Monday to ask authorities to send more food, after which they air-dropped some provisions.
Those who escaped took part in the demonstration.
"When I think of the others ... I cannot sleep," one of them said. "I don't know what their fate will be. Will they survive?"
(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, William Maclean)
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