Violence continued, yesterday, in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura as protesters clashed with police and the ruling party’s youth wing, Imbonerakure, who are accused of persecuting opponents of Pierre Nkurunziza’s presidential bid.
The ruling party, CNDD-FDD, on Saturday, nominated the incumbent president as the flag bearer in the upcoming elections, prompting peaceful protests to degenerate into violent clashes.
In an interview, a Burundian journalist who was forced to go into hiding after a tip that he was on Imbonerakure’s wanted list, narrated the situation on the ground.
“Some journalists have been beaten up and workplaces forced to close down,” the journalist said.
“At least five radio stations have been denied a chance to broadcast beyond Bujumbura and RPA, a private radio station whose manager was in jail earlier this year, was ordered shut on Monday.”
Access to Internet is also limited across the capital.
Vendors in Bujumbura were off the streets and the traders in the country’s largest market removed their merchandise after rumours that the facility would be torched.
Reports from the capital indicated that students defied attempts by police to force them back to classrooms, with some joining in the protests.
Defence minister Pontien Gaciyubwenge announced that the armed forces will remain neutral in the ongoing wrangle.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that elements of the FDLR have joined Imbonerakure in persecuting civilians.
Although The New Times could not independently verify the claims, two separate sources in Bujumbura claimed to have encountered the genocidal militia.
The FDLR comprises remnants of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Agence Bujumbura News published pictures of purported members of the “Interahamwe militia” captured by protestors in Musaga and Mutakura localities of the capital, as well as in Cibitoke, further in north-western Burundi.
Reports claim the Interahamwe and FDLR elements are under the patronage of Burundi’s police force and were actively participating in attempts to suppress protests in the country, along with Imbonerakure, a youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence and Democracy (CNDD-FDD).
By press time, Jacob Enoh Eben, spokesperson of the African Union Peace and Security Council chairperson, said the council was discussing Burundi.
Eben told The New Times that among the issues they were looking at is the interpretation of the constitution that is being debated.
“The priority is how to cease the violence and, calling on all parties to refrain from the violence,” Eben said.
The AU is also expected to send a delegation to diffuse the situation and follow up on interpretation of the constitution that has guidelines on term limits.
The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, signed by several political organisations in 2000, provides that the president can only seek two five-year terms.
Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005. However, there is contention on whether his first term was part of the Arusha accord since he was picked by Partliament.
US, UK condemn unrest
The US Embassy in Bujumbura on Monday issued a statement condemning the violence.
“Violent suppression of dissent and intimidation of citizens who have a right to protest peacefully is unacceptable in a nation that wishes to strengthen its democratic transition from a post conflict society,” reads part of the statement.
“The US will continue to closely monitor events in Burundi and will take targeted measures, where appropriate, to hold accountable those responsible for violence against civilians.”
The British Embassy liaison office in Bujumbura called for calm.
“The UK calls on all parties to refrain from violence and to act in a spirit of compromise. We call on the Burundian authorities to allow people to peacefully express their views, including through peaceful protest,” reads the statement.
“We urge the Burundian security forces to show restraint. The international community has been clear: any individuals or entities complicit in political violence or repression against those who speak up in defence of their legitimate rights will be held to account.”
The unrest has forced thousands to flee the country. By press time, close to 21,000 refugees had entered Rwanda.