The villages near the border with Niger "were the target of attacks by armed terrorist groups", leading to the death of 11 civilians, the ministry says in a statement.

Aerial view of Djibo town, Burkina Faso, February 18, 2021, the epicentre of Burkina Faso's conflict.
Aerial view of Djibo town, Burkina Faso, February 18, 2021, the epicentre of Burkina Faso's conflict. (AP)

Thirty people, including 15 soldiers, have been killed in suspected militant attacks on villages in northern Burkina Faso, according to the defence ministry.

The villages near the border with Niger "were the target of attacks by armed terrorist groups" on Wednesday, leading to the death of 11 civilians, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

On top of the deaths, cattle were stolen and properties set on fire.

A unit of soldiers and civilian VDP auxiliaries were despatched but 15 troops and four of the auxiliaries were also killed, while "more than ten" of the attackers were "neutralised,” the statement added.

The defence ministry assured that the area where the attacks took place "is now in the control of military units and the counter-offensive to find the assailants is ongoing on the ground and in the air."

Earlier a regional official with the VDP volunteer self-defence force said the attacks occurred in Burkina's Sahel administrative region, hitting the villages of Badnoogo, Bassian, Tokabangou and Gadba near the Niger border.

"Several bodies were recovered" said the member of the VDP, which fights militants alongside the Burkinabe defence and security forces.

READ MORE: Public anger grows in Burkina Faso after a deadly massacre

1.3 million people flee 

A fifth civilian member of the VDP was killed in a separate attack in Pensa, in the Centre North region.

The Burkinabe government established the VDP in December 2019 to provide support for the beleaguered army.

Volunteers are given two weeks' military training and then work alongside the security forces, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

But losses have been extremely high. According to an AFP tally, more than 200 have died.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked and arid Sahel nation, has been battling attacks since 2015 from forces that include the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, and Daesh in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Most of the attacks have been in the northern and eastern regions of the country close to the borders with Mali and Niger, both of which have also faced deadly violence by armed militants.

More than 1,500 people have died and more than 1.3 million have fled their homes.

READ MORE: Thousands flee Burkina Faso's north after massacre

Angry protests

Wednesday's attacks were the worst in the Sahel region since scores of people were killed in June in the village of Solhan – Burkina's highest single-day toll in the history of the insurgency.

In that attack, armed men, including "young people aged 12 to 14," killed at least 132 people, according to the authorities. Local sources said the toll was 160, including many children.

Since January, more than 17,500 people have fled to neighbouring countries, nearly doubling the total number of refugees from the country in just six months, according to the UN refugee agency.

The UNHCR is appealing for $259 million (220 million euros) to meet its needs in the Sahel this year.

Last month thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso, demanding a stronger response to rising militant bloodshed.

It was the first march organised by the opposition and civil society groups since President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected last year.

In response to the growing fury, Kabore sacked his defence and security ministers, taking over as defence minister himself.

READ MORE: Burkina Faso ambush leaves many police officers dead

Source: AFP