Burundi dismisses international alarm over arms crackdown


Burundi angrily rejected U.S. criticism of a planned security crackdown, saying on Friday that warnings of fresh violence reflected a bias against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Nkurunziza has announced a Saturday deadline for people to hand over illegal firearms or be treated as enemies of the state, in a bid, the government says, to stem months of violence and protests over his election to a third term in office this year.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Thursday she was extremely concerned that the arms ultimatum could “trigger widespread violence” if security forces started searching homes for weapons and opposition figures.

Regional and world powers have growing increasingly concerned about a wave of clashes and killings in the central African country, fearing a repeat of the ethnic violence that culminated in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Opposition politicians say they are facing a growing crackdown and droves of people have been seen leaving their homes in the capital Bujumbura in recent days.

Power issued a statement saying the president of Burundi’s senate, Reverien Ndikuriyo, had at one stage told officials: “You have to pulverize, you have to exterminate – these people are only good for dying.”
“Such dangerous speech and the president’s call for a widespread, indiscriminate security crackdown exacerbate an already volatile situation and risk inciting even greater violence,” Power said.

Ndikuriyo’s office was not immediately available to comment on his reported quote.

But government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba dismissed the warning of further violence, saying Power had “never been in favour of the government’s initiatives”.
“She has never been concerned about the barbaric acts committed by their friends, the insurgents,” he said.

Nkurunziza’s ultimately successful bid to stand again in July elections plunged Burundi into crisis, triggering an ultimately failed coup a decade after the country emerged from civil war. Critics said his move broke the constitution, though he cited a legal ruling allowing it.

Tens of thousands of people fled to Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix to Burundi’s, and other neighbouring countries as the crisis mounted.

In recent days, as many as half of the residents from the capital’s Cibitoke and Mutakura neighbourhoods have fled, according to Issa Ngendakumana of the Frodebu-Nyakuri party, part of one coalition behind the protests.
“We call on the international community to send us troops … Tomorrow may be too late,” said Charles Nditije, chairman of the opposition UPRONA party and one of the few opposition leaders who remains in Burundi.

On Friday, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.N. Security Council would discuss the worsening situation in Burundi next Monday, and condemned “hateful speeches, including those of an unacceptable sectarian connotation.”