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2 African Nations Reportedly OK Truce

December 27, 1985|From Times Wire Services

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — The West African states of Mali and Burkina Faso have agreed to cease hostilities after two days of fighting, Libyan Foreign Secretary Ali Tureiki announced on Ouagadougou radio early today in a broadcast monitored here.

Tureiki, who has been shuttling between Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and the Mali capital of Bamako in search of a settlement to the escalating conflict, said the cease-fire was due to start at midnight local time Thursday night. There was no immediate word on whether the fighting had stopped.

Tureiki met Thursday with Burkina Faso's leader, Capt. Thomas Sankara. He indicated in the broadcast that both Sankara and Gen. Moussa Traore, Mali's president, have agreed to pull back their troops and that Libya has offered to mediate the land dispute that touched off the fighting.

Air Raid Reported

Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) claimed Thursday that its air force attacked the southern Malian town of Sikasso in an escalation of hostilities.

Ouagadougou radio said the midday raid on the town, 30 miles inside Malian territory, was aimed at military targets, adding that it caused "immense damage." It did not say how many aircraft took part but said they all returned to base.

The report described the attack on Sikasso as a just response to Christmas Day air attacks by Mali on civilian targets in Burkina Faso. It said that Mali's attacks were immoral and barbaric.

The air raid report from Burkina Faso could not be immediately confirmed, but Western military analysts expressed doubts, saying they do not believe that Burkina Faso has any combat aircraft.

Fighting on Border

Burkina Faso also reported heavy fighting earlier on its border with Mali and said its forces inflicted a crushing defeat on Malian troops.

In the Malian capital, a military communique made no mention of the border fighting or the air attack but said one Malian soldier and 20 soldiers from Burkina Faso had died so far in the hostilities. Burkina Faso said 10 Malian soldiers were killed in Wednesday's fighting.

The two former French colonies, ranked among the world's poorest nations, have been at odds since independence 25 years ago.

The two countries began shooting on Christmas Day over a strip of territory about 120 miles north of the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou. The disputed land, a 100-mile area running along the Beli River in the Agacher region, is reputed to be rich in manganese and other minerals as well as natural gas.

Court Decision Due

Mali and Burkina Faso cite different maps and documents to support their territorial claims on the Agacher area. In September, 1983, one month after Sankara seized power in Ouagadougou and paid a visit to Mali, they agreed to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The court is expected to rule on the dispute next June if no agreement has been reached by then.

A military communique broadcast Thursday by Ouagadougou radio--before the truce announcement--said that the border village of Niounouga, captured by Mali on Wednesday, was retaken by Burkina Faso after fierce fighting.

"The Malians have been evacuating their wounded, burying the dead in haste or abandoning the bodies on the battlefield," the report from Ouagadougou said.

The Malian communique said its troops captured a commando unit from Burkina Faso heading toward Dioulouna, one of four border villages that Mali said it had "freed" on Christmas Day.

Key Airport Closed

Burkina Faso has closed its airport at Ouagadougou to international traffic, the multinational carrier Air Afrique said Thursday. It said it has been instructed to cancel all flights to and from Ouagadougou.

Residents of the Malian capital said the airport there was still open to international traffic.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the U.S. embassies in Bamako and Ouagadougou have contacted senior officials "to counsel restraint and urge they continue to seek a peaceful resolution" of the dispute.

Redman said the fighting apparently stems from Burkina Faso's attempt to conduct a census in the disputed Agacher region.

Problems Over Census

Redman said Mali sent troops into the area in a limited operation after the arrival of the Burkina Faso census takers. Western observers here said the census takers were handing out identity cards to area residents. The district is inhabited by nomadic tribes who roam back and forth across the border.

Last weekend, Burkina Faso announced it had withdrawn its people from the area, but Mali said it had not. The first shots were fired Wednesday.

According to the Military Balance, a standard reference work published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mali has larger and better equipped armed forces than Burkina Faso.

Mali Better Armed

Mali's 4,600-strong army comprises eight battalions, with 21 aging Soviet-made T-34 tanks.

Burkina Faso's army numbers 3,900 soldiers and comprises three infantry battalions, a reconnaissance squadron equipped with armored cars, an artillery battery and a parachute company.

Burkina Faso, known until August, 1984, as Upper Volta, was created by the French as an administrative unit in 1919. France divided it up among three neighbors, Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger, in 1932, and reconstituted it in 1947.

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