Burundians flee capital over fears of government crackdown

November 8, 2015 6:56 am
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Picture released by Oxford Committee for Famine Relief shows Burundian refugees walking to Nduta refugee camp in the Kigoma region of northwest Tanzania in early October/AFP
Picture released by Oxford Committee for Famine Relief shows Burundian refugees walking to Nduta refugee camp in the Kigoma region of northwest Tanzania in early October/AFP
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 8 – Families were fleeing their homes in Burundi’s capital on Sunday, over fears the government will unleash a fresh wave of bloodletting as part of a crackdown to stamp out resistance to the president.

Burundi has been engulfed in violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful bid to win a third term in office, with bodies found dumped in the streets on a nearly daily basis.

International alarm has grown ahead of a deadline of midnight on Saturday for civilians to hand over weapons or face a new regime crackdown, drawing warnings from the head of the UN, Washington and the world’s only permanent war crimes court.

Fearing a fresh escalation of the bloodshed, people started leaving parts of Bujumbura that have seen the worst recent violence.

“I was terrified, I understood that this time they would kill every last one of us,” said Marie, a secretary in her forties who took her five children to a relative’s house in a calmer part of the capital.

A resident of the flashpoint Mutakura district, who asked not to be named, added: “Mostly men have stayed behind to protect their belongings… all the rest have fled.”

At least 200 people have died in the latest turmoil and 200,000 have fled the country, sparking fears violence gripping the central African country could spin into mass bloodletting and even genocide.

“Inflammatory rhetoric deployed in recent days by some government officials and President Nkurunziza’s planned security crackdown this weekend are increasing the risk of an outbreak of mass violence,” the US said Saturday.

But the government dismissed the concerns, saying it wanted only to crush “terrorism” and comparing the fight to Somalia’s struggle against Islamist Al-Shabaab insurgents that Burundi is fighting as part of an internationally backed African Union force.

“There will be no war or genocide,” presidential communications chief Willy Nyamitwe told AFP on Saturday.

“It is amazing to see that a government that wants to put an end to terrorism is criticised instead of being encouraged,” he added.

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