Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba fled Burkina Faso for Togo on Sunday, two days after his removal in a coup, as the new junta begged civilians to refrain from looting and vandalism.
Due to the sensitivity of the situation, two diplomats who talked to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity confirmed Damiba's departure. It was unknown if Togo was his ultimate destination.
The religious leaders who mediated between the factions on Sunday morning said that Damiba had offered his resignation if his security and other requirements were met. A spokesperson of the junta later claimed on state television that their leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, had been officially named head of state in the wake of the coup that removed Damiba on Friday.
Their seizure of power was the second military coup in Burkina Faso this year, heightening fears that the political upheaval could divert attention from an Islamic insurgency whose brutality has left thousands dead and 2 million displaced. It followed rioting in the country's capital, Ouagadougou, in which mobs assaulted the French embassy and other French-related institutions on Saturday, mistakenly believing that they were providing shelter for Damiba.
In addition to pledging not to injure or prosecute him, Damiba also requested that Traore and the new junta leadership honor the ECOWAS agreements already made. Damiba, who seized power in a January coup, just signed an agreement to hold elections by the year 2024.
In a statement released late on Sunday, ECOWAS announced it would dispatch a team of mediators to Ouagadougou on Monday, which would include former Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou.
The ECOWAS statement, signed by Guinea-president, Bissau's stated that Damiba had resigned "to avoid a violent confrontation and potential bloodshed."
Earlier in the day, the new junta leadership demanded an end to the tumult that has gripped Ouagadouou since the coup on Friday evening.
In a statement aired on state television, junta representative Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho urged individuals to "cease all acts of violence and vandalism,", particularly against the French Embassy and the French military post.
After the new junta claimed that interim president Damiba had sought refuge at a French military installation following his overthrow, anti-French sentiment rose rapidly. France vehemently disputed the allegation, but protestors with torches surrounded the French Embassy in Ouagadougou shortly thereafter.
The French Foreign Ministry condemned Saturday's violence and denied any involvement in the swiftly unfolding events. The French Institutes in Ouagadougou and the country's second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, were also attacked, and French nationals were advised to exercise extreme caution.
"The situation in Burkina Faso is extremely volatile," a French spokeswoman told the Associated Press on Sunday.
Damiba assumed control in January, pledging to protect the nation from jihadist bloodshed. However, the situation has only worsened as jihadists have imposed blockades on communities and increased their attacks. A supply convoy was attacked by militants in Gaskinde commune, Sahel, last week, resulting in the deaths of at least 11 soldiers and the disappearance of 50 civilians. Friday, a panel of officers led by Traore said that Damiba had failed and would be terminated.
Damiba was viewed by some in Burkina Faso's military as too friendly with former colonial power France, which maintains a military presence in Africa's Sahel region to aid countries in their struggle against Islamic militants.
Some supporters of the new coup leader, Traore, have urged the government of Burkina Faso to seek Russian backing instead. On Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen shouting and waving Russian flags in front of the public broadcaster.
The coup leader in neighboring Mali has recruited Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to assist with security, a move that has sparked global outcry and allegations of human rights violations.
According to conflict specialists, Damiba was likely overly optimistic about what he could accomplish in the short term, but a change in leadership would not enhance the country's security position.
Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, stated that "the problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted," adding that "militant groups will likely continue to exploit" the country's political chaos.