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Regional fears as Burundi crisis shows no sign of ending

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More importantly, neighbouring Rwanda, where a Tutsi-led government has been in power since the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 mainly Tutsis were slaughtered by extremist Hutu killers, has signalled its concern.

– Regional crisis summit –

“If your citizens tell you we don’t want you to lead us, how do you say ‘I am staying whether you want me or not’?” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said last week.

Kagame, whose repression of opposition at home infuriates key allies like the United States, is widely believed to be wanting to change the constitution to seek a third term — but to do so by organising a referendum that critics say is already a done deal.

Burundi has rejected Rwandan allegations that some of the violence is linked to Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebels of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — a group Kigali has previously sent troops into DR Congo to target.

The Imbonerakure, the militant youth wing of Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD rebel group turned ruling party, is accused of possible links to the FDLR.

“While we respect Burundi’s sovereignty in addressing internal matters, Rwanda considers the safety of innocent population as a regional and international responsibility,” Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said last week.

Mushikiwabo said Rwanda “takes seriously” the reports of FDLR involvement.

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“Rwanda cannot allow an escalation of a crisis on its borders,” said Christian Thibon, a Burundi expert at France’s University of Pau.

Analysts say Burundi’s crisis bolsters regional leaders’ justification for strong rule — especially in Kigali’s eyes.

Nkurunziza’s actions “justify the continuation of their own authoritarian management and their prominent role as guarantors of law and order in the region”, said regional specialist Andre Guichaoua.

If violence escalates, then Rwanda “may be tempted to impose a settlement on the FDLR throughout the region,” said a regional analyst, on condition of anonymity.

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