Burkina president says he's back in charge, but no deal yet

Presidential guard soldiers maintained their positions at the national television headquarters.

FILE: Michel Kafando. Picture: AFP

OUAGADOUGOU - Burkina Faso's President Michel Kafando said he and his government were back in power on Wednesday a week after a coup, though it was unclear who was really in charge after the rebellion's leader attended a state function.

"I have returned to work," Kafando told journalists at the foreign ministry.

At around the same time, around 5km away, coup leader General Gilbert Diendere appeared at the airport, backed by a contingent of his presidential guard, to welcome regional leaders arriving to try to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Troops loyal to the government, who had arrived in the capital from bases across the country to disarm the coup leaders, were not visible on the streets of Ouagadougou.

Presidential guard soldiers maintained their positions at the national television headquarters, despite a deal signed overnight between the two sides under which they were to be confined to barracks to avoid clashes.

The head of protocol for the presidency, present at the airport, told Reuters that an official ceremony during which power would be handed back to the transitional authorities was scheduled for later on Wednesday. Until then, he said Diendere would remain in charge.

RIVAL FORCES AGREE DEAL TO AVOID VIOLENCE

The elite soldiers behind a coup in Burkina Faso and regular troops loyal to the government signed an agreement overnight to avoid an outbreak of violence in the capital Ouagadougou, said a traditional leader who helped negotiate the deal.

Under the terms of the accord, the presidential guard agreed to leave the city's streets and return to barracks while loyalists will withdraw 50km outside of the capital, said the Mogho Naaba, the head of the ethnic Mossi community.

LEADERS ARRIVE

Leaders from Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Togo, Benin and Ghana were due to arrive, underlining the regional concern for a country that was less than a month away from 11 October elections when the rebelling soldiers raided the cabinet.

They were due to meet the coup leaders and transitional authorities to negotiate a final settlement to restore the civilian government.

One by one, Diendere extended a full state welcomes to the arriving leaders, greeting them on a red carpet and standing beside them as a military band played their national anthems.

The October election was meant to restore Burkina Faso to democracy after last year's overthrow of longtime ruler Blaise Compaore by massed crowds protesting against his plans to extend his rule.

Diendere is the former spy chief and right-hand man of Compaore.

Compaore's overthrow had made Burkina Faso a beacon for democratic aspirations in Africa, where veteran rulers in countries from Rwanda to Congo Republic are seeking to scrap constitutional term limits.