Suspected jihadists have abducted about 50 women in insurgency-wracked northern Burkina Faso, local officials and residents say.
Roughly 40 were seized around 12km (seven miles) south-east of Arbinda on Thursday and about 20 others were abducted on Friday to the north of the town, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
Several managed to escape and return to their villages to raise the alarm, they said.
Since 2015 the landlocked West African country – one of the world’s poorest and most volatile – has been grappling with an insurgency led by jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has killed tens of thousands and displaced around 2 million people.
“The women got together to go and gather leaves and wild fruits in the bush because there is nothing left to eat,” said one resident, adding that they had left with their carts on Thursday.
“On Thursday evening, when they didn’t come back, we thought that their carts had had a problem,” another resident said. “But three survivors came back to tell us what happened.”
The same person said about 20 women, who had not known about the first abduction, were subsequently taken the next day, 8km north of Arbinda.
“In both groups, some women managed to escape and returned to the village on foot,” the resident added. “We believe that the kidnappers took them to their bases.”
According to local officials who confirmed the abductions, the army and its civilian auxiliaries have carried out unsuccessful sweeps of the area.
Arbinda is in the Sahel region of northern Burkina Faso, an area under blockade by jihadist groups and with limited food supplies.
The town and surrounding areas are regularly beset by jihadist attacks that often target civilians.
In August 2021, 80 people, including 65 civilians, were killed in an attack on a convoy taking them to Arbinda.
In December 2019, 35 civilians were among a group of 42 people who died in an attack on the town itself.
In many parts of Burkina, crops can longer be cultivated because of the conflict.
The population of Arbinda is heavily dependent on outside food supplies.
In November 2022, Idrissa Badini, a civil society spokesperson, raised alarm about the situation in Arbinda. “The population, which has used up its reserves, is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster,” he said.
The UN says nearly 1 million people are living in blockaded areas in the north and east.
Disgruntled army officers have carried out two coups this year in a show of anger at failures to roll back the insurgency.