Burundi opposition leader fears for his life

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Burundi opposition leader and former rebel chief Agathon Rwasa said he fears for his life and wants government to speed up talks to end a crisis that began in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he wanted a third term.

Burundi has been marred by instability since then when Nkurunziza announced his plan to run for a third term. The opposition said such a move was unconstitutional and violated a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005.

Nkurunziza cited a court ruling saying he could run and government accuses opponents of fomenting unrest and backing rebel groups. At least 450 people have been killed since the crisis began rights groups say.

Talks between government and its opponents in Bujumbura in 2015 failed to bridge their differences and further negotiations mediated by Uganda in 2016 also stalled.

Rwasa accused government of harassing opposition supporters, including from his National Liberation Forces (FNL) party. He said he feared for his life, claiming unidentified members of the police and army wanted him dead.
“Some people believe once Rwasa is killed they will stay or conquer power easily. But killing Rwasa will not help the country at all,” he told Reuters at the weekend.

Rwasa, also the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, said opposition members across the country were being used as scapegoats.
“When there is crime committed somewhere, regardless of who committed it, the first thing is to arrest people from FNL and find false accusations to keep them in jail,” he said.

Nkurunziza’s spokesman, Jean Claude Karerwa, said no one wanted to harm Rwasa and the courts should decide any accusations he wanted to make.
“We also ask him to use a type of language which doesn’t cause panic among the population,” Karerwa said.

Rwasa said government did not appear keen to participate in talks and political parties seemed to be unable to find a solution.

Government said it would not hold talks with parties it said were involved in the violence in 2015-16.
“Government’s goodwill has never been denied. The last session was held in February, we don’t know when the next is and it’s not government to blame,” said Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, foreign minister and one of government’s negotiators.

Some 390,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries since the crisis began, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.