VIOLENCE ON THE RISE IN FORMER HUTU-TUTSI BATTLEGROUND

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Oct. 6 (GIN) – Fears are growing that the Central African nation of Burundi is sliding back into a battlefield as the country heads into an election cycle in 2015.

The ceasefire that ended 12 years of brutal conflict in 2005 could be unraveling as the current President Pierre Nkurunziza cracks down on supporters of the opposition. Early this year, the government moved to consolidate power giving Nkurunziza the right to seek a third term, diluting powers of the vice-presidency and reducing vote numbers needed to pass laws from two-thirds to 50%+1. These and other changes threaten the fragile balance of power between Hutus and Tutsis, critics said.

The detention of a prominent human rights activist on May 16 outraged his supporters and caused Amnesty International to report a “crackdown on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and a sharp increase in politicized violence.” Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, president of the Burundi Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Detained Persons, was finally released Sept. 29 on medical grounds. The court placed travel restrictions on him and he remains in the hospital.

Violence took a turn for the worse this month with the killing of three elderly Italian nuns in Kamenge, Bujumbura, and the discovery of 40 bagged and decomposed bodies found floating in a lake bordering Rwanda.

The gruesome discovery prompted a published response from the U.S. State Department which expressed “deep concern regarding the discovery of a number of corpses in July and August of this year, some bound and wrapped in plastic, in Lake Rweru, which borders Burundi and Rwanda.

“We urgently call on the Burundian and Rwandan Governments to conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial and concerted investigation of these deaths with the assistance of independent, international forensic experts… We firmly believe that these victims deserve to be identified, their families deserve to know their fate, and those responsible should be brought to justice.”

The statement of concern closely overlapped with a meeting between President Nkurunziza and Sec’y of State John Kerry in which many joint projects were outlined. The Burundian president gave thanks for the material support. “We are a post-conflict country which has had many difficulties in the past,” he said, “but today we are happy that we are back in peace.” He then listed the countries where Burundi is now deployed in security operations: Somalia, Central Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and soon South Sudan.

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