June 17, 2015 / 3:10 PM / in 3 years

Former Burkina leader's wife urges France to help investigate his death

PARIS (Reuters) - The wife of former Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara on Wednesday called for France to declassify documents related to his death and urged the government to set up a parliamentary commission to investigate.

Sankara’s remains were exhumed in May in a bid to answer questions over his death that have dogged the West African nation since 1987. The big question is whether the body that was buried was Sankara’s, his family says.

Relatives have pressed for years for tests to be done on the body - buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in the capital Ouagadougou - after Sankara was killed in a coup that brought his former ally Blaise Compaore to power.

Miriam Sankara did not say what documents she believed Paris might have. Burkina Faso is a former French colony and the French government has often played an influential role in the politics of French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa.

“If France for example declassified secret documents on the assassination of President Sankara, that could help us bring to light what happened,” she told RFI radio.

She said she wanted French authorities to set up a parliamentary investigative committee to determine “the responsibilities of one or another” in his death.

Compaore, who was exfiltrated by French troops last October after a popular uprising, faced questions about Sankara’s death throughout his 27-year presidency but attempts to mount a judicial investigation failed.

“The time has come now that Blaise Compaore is gone,” Miriam Sankara said. “When he was there, there was a complete refusal to discover the truth. Things have changed now and it is in the interest of everybody.”

Compaore was replaced by an interim government led by Michel Kafando who promised to authorize an exhumation.

“This has just happened today. We are going to discuss this before we take a position,” Burkina Faso’s Communications Minister Frederic Nikiema told Reuters, referring to Miriam Sankara’s requests.

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.

He nationalized 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.

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

(This story has been refiled to fix grammar in paragraph 4)

Reporting by John Irish in Paris and; Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Editing by Louise Ireland

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