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Assailants ambushed a convoy carrying employees of Canadian gold miner Semafo Inc. in Burkina Faso and killed dozens of people, one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in the West African country in recent years.

The raid occurred on a road between the town of Fada and Semafo’s flagship Boungou gold mine in Burkina Faso’s eastern region of Est, the Montreal-based mining company said in a statement on Wednesday.

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FASO

Boungou

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GHANA

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MURAT YÜKSELIR /

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OSM CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

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Approximate location of the attack

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Boungou

Fada-Ngourma

BURKINA

FASO

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MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OSM CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

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NIGER

MALI

BURKINA

FASO

Approximate location of the attack

Ouagadougou

Boungou

Fada-Ngourma

BENIN

TOGO

GHANA

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IVORY COAST

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OSM CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

The local governor for the region said 37 people were killed and more than 60 injured in what he called an “ambush” by unidentified individuals.

“The governor firmly condemns this barbaric and cowardly attack,” regional governor Lieutenant-Colonel Saidou T.P. Sanou said in an official statement.

The five-bus convoy was under military escort, Semafo said, and was carrying company employees, contractors and suppliers. A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the department has no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected.

The strike highlights the increasing security threat facing companies and citizens in Burkina Faso.

An escalating wave of hundreds of violent attacks in the country has inflicted massive damage on the impoverished West African country in recent months. About one-third of the country has been engulfed in fighting, forcing humanitarian workers to abandon these regions and leaving thousands of people without any access to health care or education.

Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency for its border regions in January amid increasing terrorism and the governor, Col. Sanou, imposed a night-time curfew in March, according to Montreal-based security firm GardaWorld. Attacks are usually attributed to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, GardaWorld said.

Armed bandits and militants are operating relatively unhindered in Burkina Faso’s east because of the “shortcomings of the local security apparatus,” Charles Dumbrille, chief risk officer at consultancy IN-D-TEL International, said in an e-mail. “The situation remains unstable.”

Semafo, a mid-sized gold producer with a market capitalization of about $1.2-billion, operates two gold mines in Burkina Faso: Boungou and Mana. Operations at the Boungou site have not been affected, the company said.

This is the third attack to hit Semafo over the past 15 months in Burkina Faso.

In August, 2018, Semafo said it would take additional steps to ensure the security of its staff after two armed attacks that claimed eight lives. As part of the changes, it said all expatriate employees travelling between Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou and the Boungou and Mana mine sites would be transported by helicopter. A military force would be deployed on the ground to ensure the safety of people travelling by road to Boungou while “reinforced escorts” would accompany local employees travelling to Mana, the company said.

Company officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Semafo shares dropped 11 per cent Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, closing at $3.49. Shares of other Canadian mining companies with operations in Burkina Faso, notably Iamgold Corp. and Roxgold Inc., also fell but not to the same extent.

In total, nearly 500,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the rising violence in Burkina Faso, according to United Nations agencies. The number of homeless people has more than doubled in the past four months.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said last month that it had received reports of more than 500 people being killed in 472 violent attacks since last year.

One of the victims was a Canadian mining executive, Kirk Woodman, who worked for Vancouver-based Progress Minerals Inc. at an exploration camp in Burkina Faso. He was abducted Jan. 15 by a dozen gunmen at the camp near the Niger border. The government said his body was found with bullet wounds two days later about 100 kilometres from the site.

In a statement last month, UNHCR described the rising violence as an “unprecedented humanitarian emergency.” The displacement of families is having a “devastating” effect on agriculture and the rural economy, leading to a sharp rise in malnutrition, the agency said.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, says the attacks and threats have forced more than 2,000 schools to close, depriving 330,000 children of education, mostly in the northern region of the country. More than 68 health centres have been shut down, affecting the health care of 800,000 people, UNICEF said last month.

This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.

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