(Reuters) - Burkina Faso has expelled two French journalists working for newspapers Le Monde and Liberation, the two newspapers said on Sunday, accusing the authorities of seeking to stifle freedom of speech with an escalating crackdown on foreign media.
Liberation said its correspondent Agnès Faivre and Le Monde's Sophie Douce arrived in Paris early on Sunday after they were summoned separately for questioning by the military authorities on Friday and later notified of their expulsion.
The two are "journalists of perfect integrity, who worked in Burkina Faso legally, with valid visas and accreditations ... We strongly protest against these absolutely unjustified expulsions," Liberation said in an editorial statement on its website.
There was no statement from the authorities in Burkina Faso and it was not immediately possible to reach them for comment.
The French foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Relations between Paris and Ouagadougou have deteriorated sharply since Burkina Faso's military seized power in a coup last October. The junta has since ordered French troops to withdraw from the country and suspended broadcasts by France's RFI radio and television channel France 24.
"These two expulsions mark a new major setback in the freedom to inform on the situation in Burkina Faso," Le Monde Director Jérôme Fenoglio said in a statement.
Douce's reporting "obviously ended up seeming unbearable to the regime of Ibrahim Traoré, transition president for six months," he said.
Liberation said a recent investigation by Faivre into children and adolescents allegedly being killed in a military barracks had likely displeased the authorities.
"These restrictions on freedom of information are unacceptable and the sign of a power that refuses to allow its actions to be questioned," it said.
Burkina Faso is one of several West African countries and former French colonies battling violent Islamist groups that took root in neighbouring Mali and have spread across the region over the past decade. Thousands have been killed and over two million displaced across the Sahel region south of the Sahara despite the presence of foreign troops including from France.
Frustrations over authorities' failure to restore security has spurred anti-French sentiment and helped bring about two military takeovers in Burkina Faso and two in Mali since 2020.
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)