Africa

Thomas Sankara remains: Burkina Faso orders exhumation

Thomas Sankara in 1986 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thomas Sankara was seen by his supporters as incorruptible

The government of Burkina Faso has ordered the exhumation of the remains of Thomas Sankara, the former president who was killed in a 1987 coup.

The move means the remains can be formally identified - a long-standing demand of Mr Sankara's supporters, who wanted proof that the remains were his.

Mr Sankara - seen as Africa's Che Guevara - was hastily buried in a coup led by his successor, Blaise Compaore.

Mr Compaore quit the presidency amid massive street protests last October.

While he was in office, a Burkina Faso court blocked a request by Mr Sankara's family for his remains to be exhumed.

Mr Compaore has always denied being involved in the ex-leader's killing, insisting that the "facts are known" and he has "nothing to hide".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Sankara remains popular in many parts of Africa

The new government in Burkina Faso, headed by Michel Kafando, said Mr Sankara's family would be given the means to help identify the corpse, according to the AFP news agency.

Miriam Sankara, the former leader's widow, told the BBC French service the family had not asked for the government's help - and had yet to be officially contacted.

"We, the family... cannot exhume the corpse," she said. "We want the judiciary to do it.

"And if they do it, it should be in the context of a judicial process that we have always demanded, in the context of finding out the truth and the helping in the search for President Sankara's murderers. "

Mr Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary, became president in 1983 after an internal power struggle. He led his country for four years until his death at the age of 37.


Who was Thomas Sankara?

  • A captain in army of Upper Volta, a former French colony in West Africa
  • Instrumental in the coup that ousted Col Saye Zerbo as president in 1982
  • Took power from Maj Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo in an internal power struggle and became president in August 1983
  • Adopted radical left-wing policies and sought to reduce government corruption
  • Changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means "the land of upright men"
  • Killed in mysterious circumstances by a group of soldiers in October 1987

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