Two Spanish Journalists Are Killed in Burkina Faso

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At least two European journalists were killed in the Western African nation of Burkina Faso after being kidnapped on Monday, according to the Spanish authorities, amid reports that a third was also abducted and killed.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain on Tuesday confirmed the deaths of two Spanish journalists, whom he identified on Twitter as David Beriain and Roberto Fraile. Both were from northern Spain and were working on a documentary about anti-poaching efforts in Burkina Faso, Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, said earlier at a news conference.

Ms. Gonzalez paid respect to the families and to journalists.

“As the situation of these two journalists reminds us, your profession is one of great risk in so many areas around the world,” she told reporters.

The two journalists were part of a group of 40 who were ambushed on Monday in a nature reserve in southern Burkina Faso near the border with Benin, Ms. Gonzalez said. The fate of the others was unclear, but Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, said that a third journalist had been killed.

Mr. Beriain, 43, had reported from Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq and Libya, among other places, according to the regional Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia, for which he worked for six years. He also directed a documentary about the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, and the film he was working on about Burkina Faso was scheduled to air on Movistar, a Spanish television channel.

Mr. Fraile, 47, also covered several conflicts and was injured in 2012 while covering the war in Syria.

The convoy that was attacked also included an Irish citizen, the authorities in Burkina Faso said in a statement. Three Burkinabe soldiers were injured and a fourth was abducted, the statement said.

In recent years, Burkina Faso has faced increasing violence from armed groups, several of them linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Attackers on motorbikes have stormed countless villages, forcing residents to convert to Islam and sometimes killing them even when they do. Others have ambushed military patrols and killed members of the armed forces, and hundreds of schools have been forced to close because of the violence.

But the violence has also come from the military itself, which has killed growing numbers of civilians, sometimes in proportions similar to those killed by Islamic insurgents, according to rights groups and analysts. In July, the bodies of at least 180 men thought to have been killed by security forces in the preceding eight months were found in the country, according to witnesses’ testimonies collected by human rights researchers.

The killings come amid a worsening security situation in the Sahel, especially in the border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where organized political violence has spiked since 2019, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks political violence and protests.

Last year was the deadliest for militant Islamist violence in the region, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a U.S. Defense Department research institution. About 4,250 people were killed, according to the think tank — a 60 percent increase over 2019 — with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara linked to more than half of the deaths.

Instability in Chad, where the president, Idriss Deby, was killed last week, could further destabilize the region. Despite his poor human rights record, which includes repression of its own population, political opponents and journalists, Mr. Deby was a key figure in regional efforts to fight off Islamist insurgents in alliance with French and African forces. About 1,200 Chadian troops were deployed this year in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, known as Liptako-Gourma, where Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have made significant strides.

The Chadian military said that Mr. Deby was killed on the front lines of a battle with local Chadian rebels, who go by the name Front for Change and Concord in Chad and have trained in Libya.

In Burkina Faso, violence has fueled a fast-growing displacement crisis, with more than a million people fleeing their homes since 2019, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs body. Three million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, in a country of 20 million population.

The eastern parts of the country, particularly around the city of Fada-Ngourma, near the reserve where the journalists were abducted, has for several years been a perilous area for outsiders to visit because of the armed groups operating there.

The ambush, in the reserve of Pama, occurred near Pendjari National Park, where a guide from Benin and two French tourists were abducted in 2019. The guide, Fiacre Gbedji, was killed, and the two Frenchmen were later rescued, although two French soldiers were killed in a raid to rescue them.

Several other foreigners have also been taken hostage in recent years. In 2016, an Australian couple were kidnapped in the north of the country on the day that armed fighters killed dozens of people in the capital, Ouagadougou. In 2018, a Canadian woman and an Italian man were abducted in the country; they were released 15 months later in neighboring Mali. And in 2019, a Spanish Catholic missionary was killed.

Raphael Minder and Ruth Maclean contributed reporting.

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