Burkina Faso junta leader denies reports of army mutiny

FILE PHOTO: Burkina Faso's new military leader Ibrahim Traore is escorted by soldiers in Ouagadougou

(Reuters) -Burkina Faso's military leader Ibrahim Traore appeared on national TV on Thursday to deny reports of mutiny within the army following an attack by al Qaeda-linked insurgents that killed over 100 soldiers near the border with Niger.

Commenting for the first time since the assault, Traore did not address a claim of responsibility by an al Qaeda-linked group, but said Burkina Faso had launched an operation after the attack, and sent reinforcement troops.

Some media outlets and activists had been speculating about whether Traore was safe after gunfire was heard close to the presidency, and a rocket shell fell near state-run RTB Television's headquarters in the capital Ouagadougou on June 12.

"It's absolutely not the case. We are here," Traore told people gathered in front of RTB's headquarters, denying mutiny allegations. "The incident happened while we were at the council of ministers."

He said a rocket was launched into RTB's courtyard by mistake by those who were there to protect the TV channel's staff, adding that nobody died although some were injured.

In the past week, planes carrying Russian reinforcements and some Malian officials were dispatched to bolster Traore’s security after talks between the two countries' juntas, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.

The reports point to the close ties between the neighbouring junta-led states and their growing reliance on Russia rather than Western powers for security support in a West African region beset by political instability and Islamist insurgencies.

A Russian-registered cargo plane made seven trips to Ouagadougou from Gao and Bamako in Mali between June 15 and June 18, according to a Reuters analysis of flight tracking data on FlightRadar24.

In his address, Traore said six Russian planes had flown from Gao carrying U.N. equipment following the conclusion of a mission there.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A day before the events in Ouagadougou, the West African Sahel nation's army suffered one of the deadliest attacks in Mansila area. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by Al Qaeda affiliate Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) group.

The SITE Intelligence Group quoted a JNIM statement as saying that "fighters stormed a military post in the town, where they killed 107 soldiers and took control of the site".

(Reporting by Dakar bureau, David Lewis, and Reade LevinsonWriting by Anait MiridzhanianEditing by Bill Berkrot and Diane Craft)