Ouagadougou - With a trail of bodies in its wake, the most recent on May 26, and massive unrest, the David Ouedraogo affair which started as a robbery story has become Burkina Faso's greatest scandal.

On December 18, 1997, David Ouedraogo, chauffeur of Francois Compaore, the younger brother of President Blaise Compaore, was interrogated after a burglary at his employer's home and was tortured to death by members of the presidential guard.

A year later on December 13 1998, a well known Burkinabe journalist, Norbert Zongo, who was investigating the affair was shot dead and then burnt in his car with three companions.

Zongo had been asking for Francois Compaore to be investigated for murder and concealment of a body.

On May 26 of this year the death of police warrant officer Abdoulaye Semde, who was suspected of having produced a false account of the "confession" of Ouedraogo, was the sixth fatality to have occurred in the affair.

The Burkinabe human rights movement the MBDHP, since allied with political parties and trade unions in what they describe as a "collective for the struggle against impunity", called for an autopsy to be carried out on Semde.

"Semde wasn't just anybody, he was valuable," said the MBDHP's president, Halidou Ouedraogo.

According to the independent daily, the Observateur Paalga, the police officer "had fallen into a sort of demented state".

The death comes as Burkina Faso is in the grip of the greatest political scandal since Blaise Compaore came to power in 1987.

Sometimes violent demonstrations, series of strikes, arrests of opposition figures, students and trade unionists have all figured in the campaign against the ineffectiveness of the judicial system.

Several months after the murder of Zongo, the judiciary charged Francois Compaore with murder and concealment of a body, but the civil court decided they were not competent to hear the case and referred it to a military tribunal.

The Archbishop of Bobo-Dioulasso, Anselme Sanou, who is president of a so called "college of wise people" who are concerned about unpunished crimes, managed to get three members of the presidential guard imprisoned on June 18 1999.

After an inquiry lasting several months, the magistrate handling the case at the military tribunal, Armand Ouedraogo declared that the written testimonies of the the police force were false.

According to the magistrate, David Ouedraogo was never interviewed by the police and so requested the prosecution of the author of the false testimony.

The magistrate's superiors refused this request and asked him to close the case.

The decision had incurred the wrath of a group of around 40 lawyers who are protesting at the executive meddling with the judiciary.

The case against Francois Compaore for murder and concealment of a body has been divided into three different dossiers, one of them for injuries causing death. That is being handled by a military tribunal where the maximum penalty is two years in prison.

The two other cases, for theft and perjury, are being handled by the civil courts.

The collective against impunity is once again denouncing the "parody of justice" following the death of warrant officer Semde, the latest turn in the affair. - Sapa-AFP