Burkina Faso Muslims and Christians back unity amid insurgency

By Thiam Ndiaga

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Scores of young Burkinabe Muslims and Christians gathered in Ouagadougou's public square as the sun set on Friday to break fast together, promoting religious tolerance during Ramadan and Lent as Burkina Faso grapples with a violent insurgency.

Organised by a local interfaith youth group, the event saw Muslims and Christians sharing food and prayers in a symbolic act against militant forces seeking to exploit ethnic and religious divisions, participants said.

"If two groups from different religions manage to live together, many evils in the society will be totally over," said Wenkouni Damien Ouedraogo, a Catholic and one of the event's chief organizers.

"We must go beyond our religions to be able to embrace the other as really a part of oneself," he added.

Burkina Faso is one of several West African countries battling an Islamist insurgency that took root in neighbouring Mali and has spread across the region in the past decade.

Thousands have been killed and over two million displaced across the Sahel region south of the Sahara, where militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have exploited ethnic and religious divides to fuel violence.

Around 64% of Burkinabes adhere to Islam, while around 24% identify as Christians, according to a 2019 government census.

"To those who unfortunately took up arms against the country, we hope that our message of hope can soften their hearts," said Mamadi Ouedraogo, one of the event's Muslim organizers.

"This is for our well-being, our development and for peace and security in our country."

(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Giles Elgood)