Bu­rundi refugees mark an­niver­sary of worst blood­shed

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

In a church in Rwanda, sobs ring out and can­dles flicker as refugees from neigh­bor­ing Bu­rundi mark a year since one of the dead­li­est episodes of vi­o­lence in their cri­sis-wracked coun­try. Darcy, 32, is one of about 200 Bu­run­di­ans who gath­ered to com­mem­o­rate those killed when an attack on mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions by gun­men op­posed to Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza lead to a vi­o­lent crack­down by se­cu­rity forces against those seen as “en­e­mies” of the state. “They en­tered homes, killing any­thing that moved in­side. They raped the women they found in­side, even though they were state po­lice, sol­diers who should have pro­tected the pop­u­la­tion,” said Darcy, who fled Bu­rundi two weeks af­ter the vi­o­lence of De­cem­ber 11 and 12 last year.

In the church, a weep­ing woman re­counts how her brother was killed in the crack­down. The ram­page of vi­o­lence in which sev­eral wit­nesses de­scribed door-to-door killings in op­po­si­tion strongholds of the cap­i­tal Bu­jum­bura, left 87 dead ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment. The United Na­tions es­ti­mates the fig­ure could be as high as 200. “When you see some­one you know dead, it is like a night­mare,” said Carmel, 19, who fled Bu­rundi with her fam­ily in Oc­to­ber 2015. Bu­rundi was plunged into cri­sis in April 2015 when Nku­run­z­iza de­cided to run for a third term in of­fice, spark­ing a failed coup at­tempt and months of protests that led to a gov­ern­ment crack­down, armed at­tacks and as­sas­si­na­tions. The UN es­ti­mates that more than 500 peo­ple have been killed and some 300,000 have fled since the cri­sis be­gan. A Septem­ber re­port by UN rights ex­perts re­counted spine-chill­ing cases of tor­ture and hor­rific sex­ual vi­o­lence, mass ar­rests and dis­ap­pear­ances and warned that “the crime of geno­cide also looms large”. Bu­rundi has a long his­tory of vi­o­lence be­tween its Hutu and Tutsi com­mu­ni­ties, which led to a 12-year civil war that ended in 2006. Bu­jum­bura has re­acted to the mount­ing crit­i­cism by cut­ting ties with the UN’s main hu­man rights body and pulling out of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC), while slam­ming a “for­eign plot” to desta­bi­lize the coun­try.

‘The For­got­ten’

The lat­est ef­fort to get peace talks off the ground ran into trou­ble on Fri­day when me­di­a­tor Ben­jamin Mkapa-a for­mer Tan­za­nian pres­i­dent-urged the op­po­si­tion to fo­cus on 2020 polls and not those in 2015, which he said had come to a “le­git­i­mate con­clu­sion”. The main um­brella op­po­si­tion move­ment, the Na­tional Coun­cil for the Restora­tion of Arusha Agree­ment and Rule of Law (CNARED) - which is ex­iled in Brus­sel­swas fu­ri­ous and asked the United Na­tions to take over as me­di­a­tor. “It re­ally hurts me. I think that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the re­gion, has for­got­ten Bu­rundi,” said for­mer bank em­ployee Serge Barahin­duka, 52.

A Bu­run­dian jour­nal­ist-one of many forced into ex­ile-told AFP she fears that des­per­a­tion may force some of her coun­try­men “to go and fight in­stead of dy­ing of hunger here”. — AFP

KI­GALI: Bu­run­dian refugees stand out­side Regina Pacis Church in Ki­gali be­fore a mass to com­mem­o­rate the vic­tims of an attack on three mil­i­tary bar­racks in Bu­jum­bura. — AFP

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