A Burkina Faso court charged former President Blaise Compaore in absentia on Tuesday in connection with the 1987 murder of then-President Thomas Sankara, one of the most infamous killings in Africa’s post-independence history.
Sankara, a Marxist, pan-African leader, was murdered after four years in power and succeeded by his former friend Compaoré, who has repeatedly denied involvement. Compaoré went on to become one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, governing Burkina Faso for 27 years.
The former president has been in exile in Ivory Coast since 2014, when he was swept from power by mass protests triggered by his attempt to extend his tenure.
Sankara, who seized power in a 1983 coup at the age of 33, was known for his trademark military fatigues and red beret and rejection of a lavish lifestyle.
In four years as president, he became the first African leader to denounce the menace of AIDS, took a stand against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and promoted women’s rights by opposing female genital mutilation and polygamy.
A military tribunal on Tuesday charged Compaore with complicity in the assassination, undermining state security and receiving cadavers, a court document seen by Reuters showed.
Compaore’s former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, was also charged with several crimes related to Sankara’s killing, including complicity in the assassination.
Diendere, who has been in prison since a failed coup in 2015, was in court to hear the charges. He will enter a plea later.
Burkina Faso issued an arrest warrant for Compaore in 2015, but Ivory Coast has declined to hand him over.
The trial is a landmark moment in a 34-year quest for justice, led by Sankara’s family and supported by many in Burkina Faso.