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Burundi is rocked by fears of civil war

15 May 2015


Communiqué: Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi 

Communiqué: Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi 

A COUP in Burundi has failed. 

The attempt to overthrow the President, who has been the subject of protests for more than two weeks, was staged by army generals on Wednesday.

Major-General Godefroid Niyombareh said that a "national salvation committee" had been formed and thousands of protesters were said to be celebrating, but the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, in Tanzania at the time, said that the coup had failed.

His spokesman said on Friday that three of the leaderes of the failed coup had been arrested. Major-General Niyombare was "still on the run", he told the AFP news agency.

Fear of civil war have gripped parts of the country, the Bishop of Gitega, the Rt Revd John Nduwayo, said this week.

More than 15 people have died since the demonstrations began on 26 April, and some of the 200 people injured are not being well treated because of the lack of medical fees, he has reported. More than 400 protesters are being jailed in "very harsh conditions", and a shut-down of private and social media by the government is preventing the population from getting "balanced information and reality of what is happening on the ground".

The UN reports that 105,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, including Rwanda.

Protests began in Burundi last month, after the ruling party - the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) - nominated Mr Nkurunziza as its candidate for the presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place on 26 June.

Mr Nkurunziza has been in office for two terms since 2005, and the UN notes that "a broad array of actors has warned that an attempt to seek a third term is unconstitutional, and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement." The agreement ended a decade of civil war.

The position of the Anglican Church of Burundi, Bishop Nduwayo said, is "the respect of the constitution, and the Arusha Peace Agreement, and to promote the political dialogue between politicians and all partners in the electoral process".

He requested that people in the UK "continue praying for our country, and for peaceful electoral process already under way".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, has expressed concern in recent days about the reported use of live ammunition by security forces, and the beating of detainees.

"Life is paralysed in the capital city," Bishop Nduwayo said. "Upcountry, there is much fear of a probable civil war which can erupt at any time, due to rumours of arms distribution to one group of young people belonging to the ruling party."

A spokesman for the UNHCR, Adrian Edwards, said that people from Burundi who were arriving in Rwanda had spoken of "harassment and intimidation" by militant members of the Imbonerakure - the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD.

Several women have reported threats of rape from armed men, and of having to bribe their way through roadblocks. Some said that they had walked for hours through the bush with their children. The World Food Programme reports that a quarter of the children who are arriving at the Mahama transit camp in Rwanda are malnourished.

Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost half the population is in severe poverty.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who has visited Burundi many times, said on Monday that he had been "disturbed" by the lack of media attention given to the country.

During his last visit, in 2013, he was aware that "a particular concern, even then, was the activity of the youth movement and whether they were under any control."

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