African leader says 'I'm no pawn of Libya'
Abidjan, Ivory Coast — Capt. Thomas Sankara, the radical paratroop captain who seized power in the impoverished West African state of Upper Volta last week, claims he is not a ''pawn'' of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
To prove his point, he requested that Libya stop an ''unsolicited'' airlift of supplies into Upper Volta's capital, Ouagadougou.
But Ivory Coast, Niger, other conservative African neighbors, and Western aid donors are not so easily convinced. They see the coup as a further sign that Colonel Qaddafi is attempting to destabilize the Sahel region.
The coup came just as Libya was stepping up military involvement in Chad - supporting the rebel forces of Goukhouni Woddei in a war against pro-Western President Hissein Habre.
Sankara's Libyan sympathies and his attempt to radicalize the moderate, pro-Western regime of the former president, Maj. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, caused his dismissal as prime minister last May.
Sankara's first official trips as prime minister were to Libya and North Korea and were part of an effort to loosen ties with France, which remained strong after independence in 1960. But he went too far when he secretly invited Qaddafi to visit Ouagadougou, and was arrested.
But Sankara, hero of a short border war with Mali in 1975 and popular with the Army, was released after his former paratroop regiment rebelled in his favor.
There followed a growing power vacuum that was finally filled after the Aug. 5 coup in which at least a dozen people were killed, according to sources in Ouagadougou.
There are reports of some regional garrisons that have still not rallied to the new regime and of further outbursts of gunfire at night in the capital. A night curfew is in force and frontiers and airports remain closed.
The coup was necessary to restore ''independence, liberty, and dignity'' to the people shaken by ''imperialism and neocolonialism,'' Sankara told the nation Aug. 6.
Sankara described the new government as ''progressive'' and called for creation of the type of popular defense committees started in Ghana by Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings.
But Sankara also sent a message to Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, expressing a desire to ''consolidate the traditional friendship and cooperation'' between the nations. Good relations between them are vital because an estimated 1 million Upper Voltans work in Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast, a rare example of political stability in Africa, is concerned about the coups by radical junior army officers in neighboring countries. After three years of economic recession, there is also growing unrest in Ivory Coast. Tension mounted last April during a teacher's strike, and the President accused a foreign power - understood to have been Libya - of seeking to destabilize the country.
Despite its radical rhetoric, Upper Volta will continue to be heavily dependent on aid from France and other Western countries. The per capita income is less than $200 a year and drought is again affecting the northern part of the country.
With such enormous problems, Upper Volta can ill afford frequent upheavals. There have been three coups in the past three years. ''After each coup, ministers and top civil servants are changed. The supply of suitable candidates from the small educated class to fill these posts is getting desperately short, '' says a Western adviser.