Referendum: Burundi Campaigns Hot, Village attack leaves 26 dead

By DailyNews Foreign Correspondent

  • At least 26 people were killed after armed attackers targeted a village in north-west Burundi, amid tensions ahead of a controversial referendum.
  • The group crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Cibitoke province, officials said. They went house to house with guns and knives, burning homes, witnesses said.

As campaigns for Burundi’s May 17 constitutional amendment referendum hit the homestretch, both the “no” and “yes” camps are trading accusations of sabotage.

Among the sections of the law to be amended is one on presidential term limits, which was at the centre of the 2015 political crisis after the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza vied for a controversial third term in office.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza at a campaign rally for a referendum set for May 17, 2018. AFP

Above: President Nkurunziza

Correspondents say the aforementioned Village attack may have been an attempt to disrupt next week’s referendum which could extend the president’s term until 2034.

President Nkurunziza has ruled Burundi since the civil war ended there in 2005. His attempt to run for a third term in 2015 plunged the tiny central African nation into fresh turmoil.

Security Minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni described the attackers in a statement as “terrorists coming from and returning to Congo.”

He said the victims were “shot and burned”. Twenty-six were killed and seven wounded.

Witnesses described to the AFP news agency hours of violence that began late on Friday night.

“These criminals went house to house and committed real carnage,” one local official said. “Some of the victims were stabbed, others were shot, there is even a whole family that was burned alive in their home.”

It is not known who carried out the attacks, but some are blaming exiled opposition groups who are based outside Burundi and have vowed to disrupt the 17 May referendum.

Critics say a cult of personality is developing around Mr Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader who was the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi’s civil war in 1994.

A “yes” vote in the referendum would allow him to stand for a further two seven-year terms from 2020.

Map showing the location of Cibitoke province in Burundi

Concerns

More than five million Burundians are expected to vote on May 17 and it remains unclear whether the regional mediated dialogue will resume if at all the Constitution is amended. If amended, parts of the Arusha agreement would be scrapped.

Critics say should the constitution be amended, President Nkurunziza could rule the country until 2034, however those for the amendment say it will make things clearer.

“The amendments will clear the chaos in the leadership because the current Constitution doesn’t give the president powers to choose his vice or deputy,” said Pascal Nyabenda, who is currently the speaker of parliament.

Image result for burundi soldiers

The Burundi Catholic Church had last week expressed its concern on the timing of the referendum, but called on citizens to stay united despite differences in political opinion.

“The referendum is taking place in a climate of persistent intimidation and repression and marked with absence of consensual approach between different societal and political groups,” said high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on behalf of the EU.

Ms Mogherini said that the EU remains deeply concerned about the human-rights situation in the country, which undermines any initiative for reconciliation, peace and justice.

The EU suspended direct aid to the government in 2015, citing human rights violation in the country when protests against the incumbent president erupted.

According to the UN more than 1,000 people have died while over 400,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since 2015 when President Nkurunziza vied for another term in office.

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