, BUJUMBURA, Feb 13 – Tensions are rising ahead of elections in Burundi, a small central African country still struggling to emerge from 13 years of civil war, according to the International Crisis Group.
Such tensions "could escalate dangerously in coming months, ruining the electoral process\’s credibility and endangering a fragile democracy and, ultimately, many gains of the peace process," the ICG said in a report released late Friday.
Between May and September Burundi will organise a series of elections, including presidential and legislative polls.
"Given President (Pierre) Nkurunziza\’s popularity in rural areas and the financial and logistical advantages it derives from control of state institutions, the CNDD-FDD is in a strong position to retain the presidency," the ICG said in its report entitled "Burundi: Ensuring credible elections".
But the ruling CNDD-FDD party could lose its majority in parliament and its dominance over provincial institutions and be forced into a coalition government, a scenario that party hardliners, notably military leaders, are keen to avoid.
"Harassment and intimidation carried out by police and by the ruling party\’s youth wing are a worrying development that could destabilise the whole electoral process," warned Thierry Vircoulon, ICG\’s project director for central Africa.
"The CNDD-FDD youth wing\’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a large-scale intimidation campaign," the group said.
"The other former rebels, the FNL and the FRODEBU party are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation tactics," it continued.
The FNL, which formally renounced violence in 2009, and FRODEBU, both from Burundi\’s Hutu majority, are among the main opposition groups.
ICG said that while Burundi\’s current problems "do not make a return to civil war likely," the country\’s neighbours and the international community need to "urgently support policies that limit the real risk of serious election violence that would plunge it into a new political crisis …"
The group suggested Burundi\’s neighbours deploy a police force and appoint a special envoy whose job it would be to iron out the various conflicts around the electoral process.
The CNDD-FDD has been in power in Burundi since 2005.