A military court in Ouagadougou on Monday began the long-awaited trial of 14 men, including the former president, accused in the assassination of Burkina Faso’s left-wing leader Thomas Sankara 34 years ago.

The slaying of Sankara, a pan-Africanist icon, has for years cast a shadow over the poor Sahel state, fuelling its reputation for turbulence and bloodshed.

Sankara and 12 others were riddled with bullets by a hit squad on October 15, 1987 during a putsch that brought his friend and comrade-in-arms Blaise Compaore to power.

Compaore, the chief accused, announced through his lawyers last week that he would boycott the trial.

He ruled the country for 27 years before being deposed by a popular uprising in 2014 and fleeing to neighbouring Ivory Coast, which granted him citizenship.

He and his former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, who once headed the elite Presidential Security Regiment, face charges of complicity in murder, harming state security and complicity in the concealment of corpses.

Diendere, 61, is already serving a 20-year sentence for masterminding a plot in 2015 against the transitional government that followed Compaore’s ouster.

He appeared in court dressed in military uniform and looked relaxed.

Another prominent figure among the accused is Hyacinthe Kafando, a former chief warrant officer in Compaore’s presidential guard, who is accused of leading the gunmen. He is on the run.

Compaore has always rejected suspicions that he orchestrated the killing.

His lawyers last week announced he would not be attending a “political trial” that they said was flawed by irregularities, and insisted he enjoyed immunity as a former head of state.

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