France warns citizens of kidnapping threats in Burkina Faso
The French embassy on Wednesday warned its citizens against travelling to a national park in eastern Burkina Faso after reports that Malian jihadists were threatening to kidnap foreigners.
The park, which also spills into Niger and Benin and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, lures thousands of tourists during Burkina Faso’s December-May hunting season.
“We received information indicating threats coming from north Malian terrorists,” said Nadia Fanton, a diplomat at the French embassy, adding: “There appear to be threats of kidnapping of foreigners in the W Park.”
A security source in Burkina Faso also confirmed that jihadists had been seeking to set up camps in the park, without naming their group.
It was not clear if visitors were deemed to be at risk in the Niger and Benin portions of W Park, where lions, cheetahs, elephants and African wild dogs are a major draw for tourists.
The park is named “W” because it is shaped like the letter around the contours of the River Niger.
In 2013, French forces drove Islamist militants out of towns they had captured in northern Mali but in recent months fighters have stepped up their insurgency and have struck in areas far beyond their desert strongholds.
Several groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed a November siege of the Radisson Hotel which killed 20 people, including many foreigners.
Burkina Faso’s northwestern border with Mali, about 600 kilometres (370 miles) to the west of W Park, is already designated a red zone by France because of the risk of militant incursions.
An Islamist militant group Al-Mourabitoun said in May it was holding a Romanian man kidnapped from a mine in northern Burkina Faso the previous month.
Ransoms from hostage-taking have traditionally been a key revenue stream for Mali-based jihadists, although there have been no recent reported captures there, partly because many Western tourists are too frightened to visit.
Al Qaeda militants in northern Mali are still thought to be holding two hostages from Sweden and South Africa seized in the desert city of Timbuktu more than three years ago.
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