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21 Dec, 2023 13:42

French 'specialists' detained in African state on espionage charges

A diplomatic source has claimed the men are IT specialists, not intelligence agents
French 'specialists' detained in African state on espionage charges

Authorities in Burkina Faso have arrested four French civil servants with diplomatic passports and visas on espionage allegations. They were detained earlier this month in the West African nation’s capital, Ouagadougou, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing a French diplomatic source.

According to the unnamed source, the detainees are not intelligence agents, but rather IT specialists who had come to Burkina Faso to perform computer maintenance for the French Embassy.

On Tuesday, the French magazine Jeune Afrique claimed that four agents from France’s external intelligence agency, the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), had been arrested by Burkinabe authorities.

The outlet alleged that the arrests had prompted the departure of “a dozen of their colleagues” stationed in the former French colony.

A Burkinabe source who confirmed the reports to AFP said authorities were in the “process of verifying the real field work of four French nationals presented as agents of the DGSE.

However, the French diplomat who spoke to Reuters said Paris had taken note of “ongoing legal proceedings, but rejects accusations that the technicians were sent to Burkina Faso for reasons other than their IT maintenance work. It calls for their immediate return to France.

Relations between Paris and Ouagadougou have been strained since the Sahel nation’s military seized power in a coup in September last year, prompting France to recall its ambassador.

The military government has since ordered the expulsion of French diplomats as well as the suspension of several French media outlets, including Jeune Afrique, France24, France24, Radio France Internationale, and Le Monde.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Ministry scrapped a 1961 agreement on military assistance with France in March, which had been in effect since Paris granted the Sahel country independence. The decision came after France withdrew its troops from Ouagadougou, where they had been involved in fighting jihadist insurgents in the Sahel region. The military rulers had ordered the troops to leave for allegedly failing to quell militants.

Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – all former French colonies under military rule that have severed military ties with France over allegations of meddling – have withdrawn from the Paris-backed G5 Sahel alliance, forcing the group to collapse. The three military regimes recently signed a treaty to form the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), promising to defend each other from internal and external security threats.