Burkina Faso has asked France, its former colonial power and ally, to provide “weapons and ammunition” for a civilian volunteer force battling a bloody jihadist insurgency.

Prime Minister Apollinaire Kielem de Tembela made the request on Tuesday in a meeting with French ambassador Luc Hallade, the premier’s office said.

He referred to a drive to recruit 50,000 members of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP) — a civilian militia that supports the army in the fight against jihadists.

“France could help this popular resistance by providing weapons and ammunition and by considering financial support for these brave fighters,” he said in an account of the meeting, seen by AFP on Thursday.

The VDP, set up in December 2019, comprises civilian volunteers who are given two weeks of military training and then work alongside the army, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering, or escort duties.

But hundreds of these poorly trained volunteers have died, especially in ambushes or explosions caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along roadsides.

One of the world’s poorest states, Burkina Faso is struggling with a seven-year jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighboring Mali.

Thousands of people have died, nearly two million have fled their homes, and more than a third of the country lies outside the government’s control.

The crisis has spawned political turbulence, unleashing two coups this year among soldiers angered at the failure to halt the rebels.

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