OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Burkina Faso’s army has given civilians two weeks to evacuate vast areas in its northern and southeastern regions ahead of military operations against Islamist insurgents, it said on Friday.
The West African country’s army this week ordered civilians to leave two large “military interest zones” to protect them, but did not specify how long they would have to evacuate or where they should go.
One of the military zones is a rural area of around 2,000 square kilometres (772 square miles) bordering Mali in the northern province of Soum.
The other covers about 11,000 square kilometres on the southern border with Benin and is mostly national park land.
Reuters was not able to determine how many people reside in these areas.
“A delay of 14 days will be accorded to resident populations to join safer zones,” army spokesperson Yves Didier Bamouni said at a press briefing.
“It is very important to be able to distinguish friends from enemies,” he said, without providing further detail.
Military sources told Reuters the government would provide support to the displaced.
The government did not immediately respond to queries.
Burkina Faso has been battling Islamist militants active in the region, some with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, since 2015.
The fighting has displaced more than 1.85 million in Burkina Faso alone and killed thousands across the Sahel.
The evacuation order was given after a major attack in the north on June 11 killed at least 100 civilians and displaced thousands more.
The army on Friday also announced a three-month ban on certain brands of motorbikes and motorised tricycles across parts of eight regions.
The rule is meant to help the army distinguish civilians from militants, who are known to travel and carry out attacks on motorbikes.
No details or timeline for the upcoming military interventions has been given.
(Reporting by Anne Mimault; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Bhargav Acharya and David Evans)