Ougadougou – Authorities in Burkina Faso began exhuming the remains of former president Thomas Sankara on Monday in a bid to establish responsibility for a murder that has dogged the West African nation since 1987.

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iol news pic Burkina Faso Sankara’s Grave

Security forces, top, keep watch near the Dagnoen Cemetery, as the graves of thirteen people including Burkina Faso revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara, are exhumed on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. AP Photo/Theo Renaut

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Sankara’s relatives have for years pressed for his body to be tested, saying they suspect it may not be that of the former president, who died in a coup that brought his former ally Blaise Compaore to power.

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Witnesses at the Daghnoen cemetery on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou said the exhumation of Sankara’s body and those of 12 colleagues had begun with the families of the victims and lawyers present.

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Compaore faced questions about Sankara’s death throughout his presidency but attempts to mount a judicial investigation stalled.

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Compaore fled after a popular uprising against his rule in October last year and was replaced by an interim government led by Michel Kafando who promised to authorise an exhumation.

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Sankara took power in a coup in 1983 and quickly established a reputation as a visionary nationalist and pan-Africanist, known for his charisma and trademark military red beret.

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He nationalised land and mineral wealth, moved to improve health and education in the impoverished country, pressed for debt reduction, promoted women into leadership and changed the country’s name from Upper Volta.

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Many African intellectuals viewed him as a model, not least because he appeared to eschew the luxury enjoyed by fellow African leaders.

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Sankara’s sons Philippe and Auguste have provided DNA samples so experts can confirm whether the remains in the tomb are his. Any definitive attempt at identification may take weeks, experts said. – Reuters