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Archive for the ‘Rurubu Land of Burundi’ Category

Burundi votes in referendum on extending president’s power

May 17, 2018

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s president joined long lines of voters Thursday in a referendum that could extend his rule until 2034, despite widespread opposition and fears that deadly political turmoil will continue.

“I thank all Burundians who woke up early in the morning to do this noble patriotic gesture,” President Pierre Nkurunziza said after casting his ballot in his home province of Ngonzi. Nkurunziza had campaigned forcefully for the constitutional changes that include extending the length of the president’s term from five years to seven. That could give him another 14 years in power when his current term expires in 2020.

Burundi’s president is the latest in a number of African leaders who are changing their countries’ constitutions or using other means to prolong their stay in power. Nkurunziza’s opponents want him to go, saying he has ruled longer than Burundi’s constitution allows. More than 1,200 people have been killed in protests since he decided in April 2015 to pursue a disputed third term.

Observers have expressed alarm at reported violence and intimidation of perceived opponents of the referendum in recent days, including threats of drowning and castration. A presidential decree criminalized calls to abstain from casting a ballot Thursday.

Bujumbura, the capital, had long lines of voters as security forces were deployed across the city. Five million people across the country were registered to vote. Voting appeared to be going smoothly in most areas, although activist group iBurundi, which monitors alleged abuses by authorities, reported some allegations of intimidation.

In one area in the central province of Karuzi, police “arbitrarily arrested” a representative of opposition group Amizero y’Abarundi who was there to observe the voting, iBurundi told The Associated Press.

Nkurunziza’s main opponent, Agathon Rwasa of up Amizero y’Abarundi, condemned what he called irregularities in the vote. “Intimidations of all sorts are happening. There are some people who are going even to the voting booth to tell people how they must vote. This is contrary to the ethics of democracy and its spirit,” Rwasa said.

The government was not immediately available to respond to the allegations. Polls were closing at 6 p.m. local time. It was not clear when final results would be announced. Tensions rose last week after unidentified attackers with machetes and guns carried out a massacre Friday in the rural northwest near Congo, killing 26 people, many of them children. The government blamed a “terrorist group.” It is not clear whether the attack was related to Thursday’s vote.

The 54-year-old Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, rose to power in 2005 following a peace deal ending a civil war in which some 300,000 people died. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote.

Nkurunziza in 2015 said he was eligible for a third term because lawmakers, not the general population, had chosen him for his first term. Critics called a third term unconstitutional as the deal ending the civil war says the president can be re-elected only once.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled the political violence that followed, sheltering in neighboring countries. International Criminal Court judges last year authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes.

The run-up to Thursday’s referendum was “tainted by violence and increasing repression of dissent,” according to Amnesty International, which suggested that Burundi’s human rights situation is only getting worse.

Burundi’s government strongly denies allegations it targets its own people, saying the charges are malicious propaganda spread by exiles. Authorities ahead of the referendum imposed temporary broadcasting bans on the BBC and Voice of America, citing alleged violations.

Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda.

Burundi refugees pressured return home, says rights group

September 29, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thousands of Burundi refugees are under pressure to go home where they risk being killed, tortured or raped, an international human rights group said Friday. There is pervasive climate of fear in Burundi two years after Nkurunziza changed Burundi’s constitution and won a third term in office, which many opposed, said the rights group. More than 400,000 Burundians have fled the country fearing violence since April 2015 when Nkururunziza’s candidacy sparked weeks of protests and a failed coup.

Amnesty International said in a report that it interviewed 129 Burundi refugees in camps in Tanzania and Uganda, some of whom escaped persecution by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government as recently as May this year.

Sixteen people told Amnesty that they were tortured or ill-treated while in detention, among them a young man who said he was detained for a week in May in Kirundo Province, northern Burundi, the report said. He said he was held in a tiny unlit room with three others, repeatedly beaten with batons, and made to eat his meals in the toilet next door, the report said.

“They tortured us to make us confess that we worked with the rebels. One day they tortured us in an atrocious way. They took a bottle filled with sand and hung it from our testicles,” he told Amnesty International.

More Burundians continue to flee the country due to repression and insecurity despite government assurances of safety, said Amnesty’s Burundi researcher Rachel Nicholson. “Let’s be clear, Burundi has not yet returned to normality and the government’s attempts to deny the horrific abuses still taking place within the country should not be given credence,” Nicholson said.

Despite this, there is mounting pressure on Burundian refugees to return to their home country, the report said. In January this year, Tanzania stopped automatically granting refugee status to Burundian asylum-seekers and Uganda followed suit in June. In July, Nkurunziza in an official visit to Tanzania called on the more than 240,000 refugees there to return home and his remarks were echoed by the Tanzanian president.

“Belonging to an opposition party, associating with opposition members, refusing to join to the ruling party or simply trying to leave the country is enough to create suspicion and the threat of arrest or worse,” Nicholson said about Burundi’s current political climate. “In these circumstances, it is imperative that Tanzania and Uganda continue to provide a safe haven for Burundian refugees in line with international law.”

Burundi lawmakers vote to withdraw from ICC; would be 1st

October 12, 2016

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Lawmakers in Burundi overwhelmingly voted Wednesday in support of a plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, something no country has ever done. The decision escalates a bitter dispute with the international community over the human rights situation in the East African country, which has seen more than a year of deadly violence after President Pierre Nkurunziza made a controversial decision to pursue a third term.

No state has withdrawn from the ICC, according to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. The court prosecutes cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ninety-four out of 110 Burundi lawmakers voted in favor of the withdrawal plan, months after the ICC announced it would investigate the country’s ongoing violence.

Some African countries have threatened a withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, accusing the court of disproportionately targeting the continent. Only Africans have been charged in the six cases that are ongoing or about to begin, though preliminary ICC investigations have been opened elsewhere in the world.

Of the 124 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, 34 are African, the largest continental bloc. The United States is not a party to the treaty. Burundi’s decision is not immediate. Observers say a county wishing to withdraw from the ICC must write to the U.N. secretary-general stating its intention, and the withdrawal takes effect a year after the day the secretary-general receives the letter.

Vital Nshimirimana, a Burundian rights activist, urged the U.N. to challenge the government’s decision. “Already, we have information that intelligence agents are torturing, killing Burundians behind closed doors,” he said. “The world ought to rescue the people of Burundi.”

Burundi’s government has repeatedly said it is the victim of propaganda by exiles and opponents who want to diminish its credibility. Hundreds have died in Burundi since Nkurunziza last year pursued and won a third term that many call unconstitutional. Since the ruling party announced his candidacy in April 2015, Burundi has seen violent street protests, forced disappearances and assassinations. More than 260,000 have fled.

On Monday, Burundi’s government banned three U.N. human rights investigators from entering the country following the release of a report that cited massive rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security agencies.

The push among some African countries to withdraw from ICC began after the court indicted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on charges of crimes against humanity for 2007 post-election violence in which more than 1,000 died. The ICC prosecutor said threats to witnesses, bribery and lack of cooperation by Kenya’s government led to the case’s collapse.

Some countries want a separate African court with jurisdiction over rights abuses.

UN chief: Burundi leader promises to release 2,000 prisoners

February 23, 2016

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s president promises to release 2,000 people detained during months of violent unrest, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday while visiting the violence-plagued country.

Ban spoke after meeting with President Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday, as well as meetings with officials from Burundi’s ruling party, government, opposition and civic groups in Bujumbura, the capital. Ban said Nkurunziza’s vow to release some prisoners is “an encouraging step” and urged the president to take more measures to promote peace. Ban said he was also heartened by the reopening of some media outlets and the cancellation of some arrest warrants. He arrived in Burundi on Monday on a mission to encourage dialogue between Nkurunziza and his opponents.

Ban and Nkurunziza spoke to reporters in a joint news conference Tuesday in Bujumbura. “Burundi’s political leaders must be willing to summon the courage and confidence that they make a credible political process possible and ensure that the people of this beautiful nation can once again live in peace and enjoy human rights,” said Ban.

In his statement, Nkurunziza said he is ready to talk to his opponents and urged Ban “to persuade Rwanda to stop its aggression against Burundi.” Rwanda has denied allegations it is training and arming rebels opposed to Nkurunziza.

Gun and grenade attacks continue to plague Bujumbura as Nkurunziza’s supporters and opponents target each other. More than 400 people have been killed in Burundi’s current unrest which started in April when it was announced Nkurunziza would seek a third term, which he won. A new rebel movement has vowed to oust Nkurunziza from power by force.

Burundi rejects African Union peacekeeping force

December 20, 2015

KIGALA, Rwanda (AP) — Burundi’s government on Saturday rejected the African Union’s plans to deploy a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force to stop escalating violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s extended tenure in office, a government spokesman said.

If the African Union sends troops without Burundi’s consent it will be viewed as an attack, said government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba. Burundi has enough forces to maintain peace, he said. Burundi has been in turmoil since April when Nkurunziza’s candidacy for a third term was announced. Violence escalated following Nkurunziza’s re-election in July.

Last week 87 people died when an unidentified group attacked three military installations. Burundi’s security forces responded by going on a rampage in parts of the capital, Bujumbura, regarded as centers of opposition. Police and military are accused of dragging more than 150 civilians from their homes and shooting them at point blank range, according to human rights groups. Burundi’s government insists its troops acted professionally.

In response to the violence, the African Union on Friday authorized sending a peacekeeping force to Burundi to stop the political violence. The African Prevention and Protection Mission will be deployed to Burundi for at least six months and its mission can be extended, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council said. The force’s mandate will include protecting civilians under imminent threat and helping to create conditions for holding inter-Burundian dialogue. The African Union’s decision was unusual as it did not seek an invitation from Burundi’s government for the peacekeepers.

In another effort at mediation, Burundi’s fighting sides are to meet on December 28 in Uganda to try to resolve the crisis, Uganda’s defense minister said Saturday. Fourteen groups including Burundi’s ruling party, opposition parties and civil society organizations are to attend the talks aimed at ending the violent political unrest in which hundreds have been killed, said Crispus Kiyonga, who is also the facilitator of the peace talks mediated by the East African Community. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will moderate the talks, he said.

However the chances for these negotiations are not certain as the Nkurunziza government refused to participate in previous talks. The United Nations Security Council, in a statement Saturday, expressed “deep concern about the escalation of violence in Burundi,” condemning both the attack on the military installations and the retaliatory rampage in Bujumbura. The council urged all sides in Burundi to support Museveni’s mediation effort and to cooperate with the African Union’s plan to deploy a peacekeeping force.

At least 400 people have been killed since April 26, when it was announced Nkurunziza would run for a third term, according to human rights groups. Nearly 3,500 people have been arrested in the political crisis and 220,000 people have fled the country.

Nkurunziza’s third term was opposed by many Burundians and the international community, who say it violates the country’s constitution two-term limit. Nkurunziza argues that his first term in office does not count because he was elected by parliament and not by the people.

AP writers Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya and Risdel Kasasira in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.

Burundi: 15 killed in coordinated attacks on military camps

December 12, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — In coordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi before dawn Friday. At least 15 people were killed as gunfire and explosions rocked the African capital of Bujumbura, marking a steep escalation of a simmering conflict.

Around 4 a.m., the unidentified attackers wearing civilian clothing hit two military installations in the capital and one in the countryside. Terrified civilians in Bujumbura stayed in their homes as stray rounds hit some of them.

The sounds of battle continued into the afternoon, residents said. Military and police vehicles were the only ones on the deserted streets and roadblocks were set up. “A stray bullet hit the wall of my neighbor’s house. We do not know what’s going on in the streets. We are living in fear,” said Claire Biguda, a resident of the city’s Nyakabiga neighborhood, who was locked up in her house along with her husband and two children.

Taxi driver Emery Sahabo said, facing roadblocks and gunfire early Friday, he and other motorists abandoned their cars and ran home. Burundian officials have previously accused neighboring Rwanda of supporting an insurgency against President Pierre Nkurunziza. There was no immediate comment from Rwanda.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and warned they could lead to further destabilization in Burundi. “Anyone responsible for ordering or committing human rights violations will be held individually accountable,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The U.N. chief urged Burundi’s government to create conditions for an inclusive dialogue “that can address the deep political challenges facing the country.”

The U.N. Security Council also strongly condemned the latest attacks, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the council should look at “how the international community can protect civilians from mass violence, including for the possible deployment of a regionally led peace support operation.”

Friday’s fighting is apparently part of violence linked to Nkurunziza’s third term, which many Burundians and foreign observers had opposed as unconstitutional and in violation of peace accords. The treaty ended a civil war in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2006.

At least 240 people have been killed since April and about 215,000 others have fled to neighboring countries, according to the U.N. Several hundred people have also been imprisoned for opposing Nkurunziza’s re-election this year.

Twelve attackers were killed on Friday and 20 others were arrested, including one who was wounded and is being treated at a military hospital, military spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza told state radio.

The attackers wanted to steal weapons and use them to free prisoners, he said. Baratuza said five soldiers were wounded in the attacks. However, military officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said three soldiers were killed.

Five attackers and two soldiers were killed in the assault at a camp in Ngagara neighborhood, a soldier said. Another soldier at the ISCAM military academy said one soldier died there. A third attack took place in Mujejuru, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital, Baratuza said.

Nkurunziza, who took power in 2005, won re-election in July. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Nkurunziza, who says he was entitled to another term because for his first term he was elected by parliament and not by popular mandate. The deputy president of the Constitutional Court fled to exile in Rwanda before the ruling and said the court had been coerced to rule in favor of the president.

Burundi has a history of deadly conflicts between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, though the current violence appears more politically than ethnically motivated.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

Burundi’s president urges unity after contentious polls

July 31, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s re-elected president is urging unity after winning contentious polls that the international community says were not credible.

In a televised speech Thursday night, Pierre Nkurunziza said he would be a president for all, including those who did not vote for him. He said that during his presidency “everyone will enjoy the same rights and opportunities without favoritism.”

Nkurunziza won 69 percent of the vote while his closest rival, Agathon Rwasa, got 19 percent in the July 21 elections. The elections took place amid violence stemming from regular street protests against Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, which many saw as unconstitutional.

The U.N. had urged Burundi’s government to delay the elections until the situation was sufficiently calm to hold credible, free and fair elections.

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