Sankara, Charismatic Leader of Burkina Faso, Killed in Coup

From Times Wire Services

Capt. Thomas Sankara, the charismatic leader of Burkina Faso who preached hard work and incorruptibility, was killed in Thursday’s coup by forces loyal to his chief aide, witnesses said Friday.

Sankara, 37, was shot to death in a gun battle at the presidential palace when his personal guard tried to repulse forces loyal to the coup leader, Capt. Blaise Compaore, the witnesses said.

(The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed official source, reported that Sankara and 12 other officials were executed and buried Friday.)


Compaore, 36, was a boyhood friend of Sankara and had been his No. 2 man in the leftist government. Compaore, Sankara and two other soldiers were the nucleus of a coup that put Sankara in power in August, 1983.

Western diplomats said Compaore appeared to be of the same mold as Sankara, with perhaps a more pro-Soviet inclination. At least 13 other people were reported killed and some reports said the figure could go as high as 100 dead in Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African nation of 7 million people formerly called Upper Volta.

Witnesses said Sankara and the others, mostly soldiers, were buried in a small cemetery east of the capital. Each grave was identified, and Sankara’s name was on one of them. Residents said a large number of people visited Sankara’s grave Friday.

The government radio made no mention of Sankara’s fate, but regional stations broadcast news of his death.

A communique read on government radio Friday night said Sankara had planned to “arrest and execute” his opponents during a meeting scheduled Thursday night. The communique said some members of the presidential guard and security forces learned of Sankara’s plan and acted to “avoid an unnecessary bloodbath.”

Compaore announced that representatives from the country’s 30 provinces would meet to elect a new president. The announcement did not set a date for the election.