OUAGADOUGOU: More than 60 civilians have been killed in tit-for-tat clashes between communities in northern Burkina Faso in recent days, the government said on Wednesday, the latest in a bout of inter-communal violence afflicting West Africa’s Sahel region.

Burkina and neighbouring Mali have seen a spike in ethnic clashes fuelled by Islamist militants as they seek to extend their influence over the Sahel, an arid region between Africa’s northern Sahara desert and its southern savannas.

New violence arose near the town of Arbinda in Burkina’s Soum province on Sunday night, when a religious leader and six of his family members were killed by unidentified armed men, the ruling Movement of People for Progress (MPP) party said in a statement on Wednesday.

“On the morning of April 1, reprisal acts were reported in the Arbinda Department. They were directed against a community following the assassination of a religious leader,” said MPP spokesman Bindi Ouoba.

The MPP statement said a royal family was also attacked in neighbouring Boulgou province on Sunday night, leaving at least nine dead.

Territorial Administration Minister Simeon Sawadogo said on state TV late on Wednesday that 62 people died in the Arbinda attack.