Burkina Faso detains four French civil servants, says diplomatic source

PARIS (Reuters) – Four French IT workers with diplomatic passports and visas have been arrested in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, a French diplomatic source said on Wednesday, denying a media report that they were intelligence agents.

Worsening relations between the junta in Burkina Faso and former coloniser France have recently led to expulsion orders for diplomatic officials, including the French ambassador, and to the suspension of some French media.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the four civil servants came to the West African country to carry out IT maintenance for the French embassy, but were detained on Dec. 1 and transferred to Ouagadougou prison on Dec. 14.

French news magazine Jeune Afrique on Tuesday published an article saying that Burkina Faso had arrested four agents working for France’s external intelligence agency DGSE, the equivalent of America’s CIA or Britain’s MI6.

“The French government takes 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,” the source said.

The Burkinabe government did not reply to a request for comment.

The military authorities came to power after two coups last year – part of a string of recent army-led ousters in West Africa that have frayed France’s once-strong ties with the region, where anti-French sentiment is on the rise.

Jeune Afrique magazine itself was suspended by the junta in September for publishing “untruthful” articles that reported tension and discontent within the African country’s armed forces.

(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Leslie Adler)