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Burkina Faso orders UN coordinator to leave, declares the diplomat “persona non grata”

Burkina Faso has ordered the UN’s coordinator in the country to leave by the end of the day, declaring her “persona non grata”, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Italian diplomat Barbara Manzi, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Burkina Faso, “is declared persona non grata in the territory of Burkina Faso”, the ministry said, without giving any official reason for the expulsion.

“She is therefore requested to leave Burkina Faso today, 23 December 2022.”

Foreign Minister Olivia Rouamba said Manzi’s decision to “unilaterally” withdraw non-essential UN staff from the capital Ouagadougou justified the move.

The withdrawal “discredits and tarnishes the image of the country and puts off potential investors. It’s unthinkable and we have to take responsibility”, she told national television.

Rouamba said Manzi had “predicted chaos in Burkina Faso in the coming months”, adding that the United Nations should act as a “support structure” as the West African state battles a bloody jihadist insurgency.

A poor landlocked country in the heart of the Sahel, Burkina Faso has since 2015 been plagued by attacks perpetrated by jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

The insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and driven around two million people from their homes.

– ‘Long list of recriminations’ –

A diplomatic source said the expulsion “risks placing the country in a delicate situation, at a time when Burkina Faso needs partners more than ever to deal with the security and humanitarian crisis”, the source added.

Another diplomatic source told AFP that a “long list of recriminations” had led to the expulsion of Manzi.

In addition to the request for the withdrawal of non-essential staff, Manzi is also accused of “attempting to influence negatively” and of “interfering in the political affairs of Burkina”, according to the second source.

Rouamba added that Burkina Faso “maintained very good cooperation” with the United Nations irrespective of Manzi’s expulsion.

Manzi, who was also a UN humanitarian coordinator, had been in her role in Burkina Faso since August 2021.

The UN official’s expulsion comes days after two French nationals working for a Burkinabe company were expelled, with the authorities accusing them of espionage.

Media organisations in Burkina Faso have also accused the ruling junta of a clampdown after Radio France Internationale (RFI), which is widely followed in the West African state, was suspended.

Frustration at the mounting military toll against the jihadists has sparked two coups this year by disgruntled officers, most recently in September when Captain Ibrahim Traore ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

Last month Burkinabe Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela said he hoped to “diversify partnership relations until we find the right formula for the interests of Burkina Faso”.

He also said that “some partners” had “not always been loyal”, without naming any countries.