The exiled former President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, is to be tried for the murder of the man he ousted in a 1987 coup, Thomas Sankara, lawyers told AFP on Tuesday.
The case was sent to the military tribunal in the capital Ouagadougou after the charges against Compaore and the other main alleged perpetrators were confirmed, 34 years after the death of the cult figure, often called the African Che Guevara.
Such news has sent a bad signal to former Liberian rebel leader now Senator of Nimba County Prince Johnson as he admitted to being involved in Sankara’s assassination during his testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2008. He recently resigned from the ECOWAS Parliament with unclear reasons.
On September 9, 1990 Johnson’s rebel fighter abducted President Samuel Kanyon Doe and had him tortured and executed in his custody with the spectacle videotaped and broadcast around the world. The video showed Johnson sipping a Budweiser beer and being fanned by an assistant as his men cut off Doe’s ears.
Prince Johnson said he, along with a group of Liberian mercenaries, were in Burkina Faso at the time to plot a coup in their own country when they were contacted by Compaoré.
“The number two, Blaise Compaoré, asked for help in removing Thomas Sankara from power,” Johnson said in an interview with RFI’s French-language service.
“He said that it was the only way for us to live safely in Burkina. And Sankara was killed. We did it because it was the only way for us to stay in Burkina and prepare our attack against [Then President of Liberia Samuel] Doe,” he said.
“We didn’t want to be sent back to Liberia where we’d be chased by the police, so we were obliged to carry out the request of the number two, Blaise Compaoré, and oust Sankara from power. This is how he came to be assassinated.”
“Blaise Compaoré was everything. He controlled the emergency services, the special forces and the commandos were responsible for the presidential palace. So it was easy to get inside.”
Now 41 years after, Compaore and 13 others are being charged with harming state security, complicity in murder and complicity in the concealment of corpses, lawyer Guy Herve Kam told AFP.
“The time for justice has finally come. A trial can begin. It will be up to the military prosecutor to determine a date for the hearing,” he said.
Among those accused is General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s former right-hand man and a former head of the elite unit, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), at the time of the coup.
Diendere is currently serving a 20-year sentence in Burkina Faso for masterminding a plot in 2015 against the west African country’s transitional government.
Even more people had been accused, but “many of them have died since,” Kam said.
Diendere’s lawyer, Mathieu Some, said that while a trial date had not yet been set, it “could happen soon”.
Sankara took power in a coup in 1983, but was killed on October 15, 1987, when he was 37, in a putsch led by Compaore, who was himself ousted in 2014 by a popular uprising after 27 years in power.
An arrest warrant was issued against Compaore in March 2016. He currently lives in Ivory Coast, where he fled after being toppled and where he has since taken nationality.