Human rights activists visit detained alleged coup plotters

Activists from Burkina Faso's main human rights movement have been allowed to visit and talk to the 16 people detained last month for allegedly plotting a violent coup against President Blaise Compaore.

The Burkina Faso Human and People's Rights Movement (MBDHP) said after the visit, that the detainees were being held in "acceptable" conditions. Halidou Ouedraogo, MBDHP president, said the activists were able to talk to the detainees individually for two hours.

"We found their detention conditions acceptable. They each have a clean, individual living room and toilet," Ouedraogo told IRIN on Monday evening.

One of the detainees, Lt. hillipe Minoungou had been admitted at the gendarmerie hospital where he was being treated for an undisclosed illness. The 50 year-old retired soldier is known to have prostrate cancer.

Ouedraogo however said the detainees complained about the quality of the food and had not been able to see their families since their arrest last month. "Detention has a psychological effect. That is why we are asking for more efforts so that these persons are tried quickly," he said.

On Thursday the Burkina Minister of Foreign Affairs, Youssouf Ouedraogo, met diplomats accredited to the country to brief them over the foiled coup attempt. He said the detainees had accepted that they had been "actively involved or had heard about the coup."

The Minister told the diplomats that the coup was planned to have taken place on a wednesday during a cabinet meeting using weapons from the presidential security guard units. The 16 detainees include junior officers who are current and former members of this unit.

The alleged mastermind of the coup, Captain Luther Diapagri Oualy, had purchased three 4X4 pick up vehicles, the minister said.

Anthony Holmes, US ambassador in Burkina Faso later said: "We appreciate that the government took the initiative to be transparent and inform diplomats and the international community about this matter."

Last week, the Burkina general prosecutor said preliminary investigations were complete and that a military court would be set up to try the detainees for "conspiracy against state security." Captain Oualy will also face treason charges he added.

The 16 include four senior army officers, seven junior officers, three rank soldiers and two civilians. Among them is Norbert Tiendrebeogo, a banker and leader of the Social Forces Front (FFS), an opposition party close to late president Captain Thomas Sankara who was killed in a coup in 1987.

Also arrested is Pare Israel, a former school teacher turned a church pastor. One arrested army sergeant, Moussa Kabore, who was also Compaore's former body guard, hanged himself during detention, the prosecutor said.

Government officials said the coup was planned with the support of neighbouring countries. Cote d'Ivoire and Togo have denied involvement. Last year, Cote d'Ivoire accused Burkina Faso of supporting an uprising by its soldiers which has left the country divided between a rebel-controlled north and government-controlled south.