The United States embassy in Burundi has warned US citizens in the country of potential attacks from “regional terror groups” targeting Western interests.
Over the weekend (3 – 4 December), the US embassy in the capital Bujumbura warned American citizens of “heightened security concerns that regional terror groups remain actively interested in attacking US and other Western and local interests in Burundi.” In an emergency message that was published on its website, the diplomatic mission disclosed that it had received “specific information leading to concern about potential activity in early December,” including, but not limited to, the Kajaga neighborhood, which is located on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The statement went on to say “the embassy has now placed the neighborhood and associated restaurants and beach clubs off limits to embassy personnel until further notice.” US citizens who do visit these areas are advised to avoid large public gatherings, especially those with no visible security presence, review or enhance personal security plans and be prepared to enact those plans.
The African Union (AU) has abandoned its plan to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to help restore stability to troubled Burundi. Officials have disclosed that they would instead encourage political dialogue between Burundi’s opposing sides. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza had fiercely opposed the AU’s plans to deploy peacekeepers. His decision last April to seek a third term in office has led to ongoing violence and fears that Burundi is sliding into ethnic conflict. According to United Nations figures, at least 439 people have died and 240,000 have fled abroad since last April.
The AU could have deployed troops without Burundi’s consent, a clause in its charter effectively allows it to intervene in a member state because of grave circumstances, which include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, however it would have been the first time it had done so. Top AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall has disclosed that such a move would have been “unimaginable.” After the bloc’s meeting in Ethiopia, AU Peace and Security Council Chief Smail Chergui stated that “we want dialogue with the government, and the summit decided to dispatch a high-level delegation.”
The announcement comes just days after human rights group Amnesty International published satellite images last week, stating that the images were believed to be five mass graves near Burundi’s capital, where security forces were accused of killing scores of people in December 2015. A fact-finding mission by the AU has reported arbitrary killings, torture and the “closure of some civil society organizations and the media.”
Timeline of Events
- April 2015: Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces that he will seek a third term in office.
- May 2015: Constitutional court rules in favor of Mr Nkurunziza, amidst reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amidst protests.
- May 2015: Army officers launch a coup attempt, which ultimately fails.
- July 2015: Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as “a joke.”
- November 2015: Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunzia’s third term five days in order to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.
- November 2015: UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide.
- December 2015: 87 people killed on one day as soldiers respond to an attack on military sites in Bujumbura.
- January 2016: Amnesty International publishes satellite images which it says are believed to be mass grave located close to where December’s killings took place.
On Friday, Amnesty International reported that new satellite images, video footage and witness accounts show that dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December 2015 were later buried in mass graves.
The rights group has reported that there are five possible mass graves in the Buringa area, which is located on the outskirts of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. A statement released by Amnesty disclosed that “the imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts. Witnesses told Amnesty International that graves were dug on the afternoon of 11 December, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of Burundi’s escalating crisis.” According to Amnesty, witnesses described how police and local officials scoured Nyakabiga and other neighborhoods in Bujumbura in a bid to retrieve the bodies of those who were killed and took them to undisclosed locations. The latest report on such mass graves comes after UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein earlier this month called for an urgent investigation into the alleged existence of mass graves following the violence that erupted in December. At the time, he cited “large-scale human rights violations,” stating that the “increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves is extremely alarming.” The Burundian government however has dismissed these allegations, stating that they are based on false information that was supplied by the regime’s opponents who fled into exile. Government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba has stated that the US is free to go to Burundi and investigate the allegations, which he said were intended to portray Burundi as being a dangerous country.
On 11 December, in coordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi. The following day, 28 people were found shot dead in three neighborhoods in the capital city. An eyewitness reported at the time that some of the dead had their hands tied behind their backs, with another witness blaming government security forces and stating that they went after the victims in door-to-door searches.
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek re-election last April touched off street protests that led to a failed coup in May and a rebellion which has left the country on the brink of civil war. Opponents and supporters of the president have been targeting each other in gun, rocket and grenade attacks, with the violence spreading beyond the capital city and into the provinces.
Despite the election period in Burundi ending last week, with President Pierre Nkurunziza winning a controversial third term in office, the security situation in the capital city Bujumbura has remained fragile. On Sunday, a top Burundian general, and right-hand man to President Pierre Nkurunziza was killed in a rocket attack on his car. The latest incident in the country has prompted fears of further instability.
Police and eyewitnesses reported that General Adolphe Nshimirimana’s pick-up was hit by two rockets and sprayed with automatic gunfire in the capital Bujumbura on Sunday. The presidency’s communications chief, Willy Nyamitwe, confirmed that the general, a former army chief of staff and intelligence chief, had been killed. The general’s driver was also killed in the attack. Nshimirimana was widely seen as the country’s de facto internal security chief, with many considering him as the regime’s number two. The assassination comes just over a week after Nkurunziza was declared the outright winner of a controversial presidential election, effectively securing a third consecutive term despite opposition protests and international condemnation.
The killing of a top official has also sparked concerns of further instability in Burundi. In a statement, African Union (AU) Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma disclosed that she was “horrified” by the assassination. She condemned “this barbaric act that is likely to further destabilise the country,” and urged the Burundian government, opposition political parties and civil society “to work very closely together to find a lasting solution to the current crisis.” The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also condemned the attack, warning that it marked “a dangerous escalation of the violence in Burundi.”
Sources in the capital have warned that in the wake of the general’s killing, there may be possible revenge attacks. Police sources have reported that seven arrests were made, with a source in the country’s National Intelligence Service (SNR) stating that security forces were “nervous.” While there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the assassination, plotters behind the recent failed coup have since regrouped and have launched a rebellion in the northern region of the country. They have also been linked to a string of grenade attacks that occurred in Bujumbura during the lead up to elections last month.
Shots were heard in the capital late Sunday, just hours after the general’s death. While late Monday, a leading rights activist was shot and wounded by unknown assailants in the capital city. Vital Nshimirimana has reported that Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, president of The Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, was fired upon while walking home.
On Tuesday, Burundi will hold controversial presidential elections despite the African country being rocked by deadly protests since April against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s divisive bid to stand for a third term in office. The opposition has maintained that the President’s move is unconstitutional and that it violates a peace agreement that ended a civil war in 2006.
Since the demonstration began, at least 100 people have been killed and scores wounded in clashes that have erupted between demonstrators and police and ruling party militia. The UN has reported that more than 150,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.
Key Dates and Events Leading Up to Tuesday’s Vote:
26 April 2015 – Police clash with protesters in several parts of the capital, Bujumbura. The clashes come just a day after President Nkurunziza is declared candidate for a third term in office by his ruling CNDD-FDD party.
Police used live rounds, tear gas and water cannons in order to prevent thousands of youths from marching to the city centre. Demonstrators were shot dead in clashes with police while others were killed in alleged attacks carried out by the ruling party’s youth wing, which have been likened to a militia.
President Nkurunziza’s Candidacy Validated
5 May – The Constitutional Court clears the president to run for at third term in office. The judgement, which was signed by six out seven judges, comes just hours after the court’s vice president fled the country after refusing to sign the judgement and claiming that judges had been subjected to death threats.
Order to Stop the Demonstration
9 May – The government orders protesters to “immediately and unconditionally” end the protests and orders all barricades to be removed within 48 hours however the demands are ignored.
13 May – A top Burundian general, Godefroid Niyombare, announces the overthrown of President Nkurunziza. The attempted coup occurred hours after the president left the country for neighbouring Tanzania to attend talks with regional leaders on ending the political crisis.
15 May – Coup leaders announce that they are surrendering after failing to capture the state broadcaster from the presidential guard. According to the government, Niyombare avoids capture and goes on the run. President Nkurunziza returns to the presidential palace in the capital city.
Opposition Leader Assassinated
23 May – The leader of a small opposition party, Zedi Feruzi, is shot dead.
Parliament Speaker Defects
28 June – Parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma announces that he has fled to Belgium. He denounces the president’s “illegal” bid for a third term.
Legislative and Local Elections
29 June – The ruling CNDD sweeps to an expected overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition and which were criticized by the international community
Violent Attacks in Cibitoke Suburb
1 July – Six people, including one police officer, were killed in gun battles in the capital’s Cibitoke district. According to police, five of those killed were members of an armed group.
Call to Delay the Presidential Vote
6 July – East African leaders demand that the Burundian government delay the presidential election by two weeks, until 30 July. Burundian officials however only delay the election by one week, to 21 July
Clashes Erupt in Northern Region of Country
10 July – Clashes erupted between the army and an armed group in the provinces of Kayanza and Cibitoke, near the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the Burundian army, more than 220 people have since been captured there.
15 July – Rival political factions meet for crisis talks, which are mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. It is a last-ditch effort, following months of violence ahead of the presidential elections.
19 July – The talks are suspended, amidst mutual recriminations, after the government fails to show up.