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Violence, Need for Dialogue Rise in Burundi

by Mohammed Yusuf December 14, 2015

Some normalcy has returned to Burundi's capital of Bujumbura since the fighting began Friday.

At least 87 people were killed over the weekend in Bujumbura after armed men attacked three military bases. It was the worst violence since a failed coup in May and has led to intensified calls for dialogue and regional mediation.

Security forces fought off assaults on three army bases from as-of-yet unidentified armed men. Witnesses say security forces then rounded up youth in opposition neighborhoods late Friday and Saturday.

One witness who did not want his name used for fear of reprisal said it was police officers doing house-to-house searches, especially in his area, Nyakabiga. He says they went in, arrested youths and then killed some of them, saying they are the ones who are against the government.

Police deny that allegation.

;;Crisis origin

The crisis began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a third term. Critics said that bid violated the constitution and the Arusha Accords that ended Burundi's civil war. Nkurunziza won re-election in July in a vote boycotted by the opposition.

Opposition to the president has grown more violent in recent weeks, and there have been almost daily clashes between armed vigilantes and police.

Yolande Bouka, a researcher for Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division of the Institute for Security Studies, says the latest events in Burundi are a worrying escalation.

"People, who were initially peaceful protesters, some of them have been radicalized or feel like there is no political avenue to see any real change in Burundi,' said Bouka. 'But it's definitely a clear sense that things are changing. That being said, I think it needs to be clear that there remains a great deal of people who remain peacefully opposed to President Nkurunziza's third mandate."

Political dialogue stalls

Efforts at international mediation or domestic political dialogue appear stalled.

"The lack of political dialogue, between the opposition groups and the ruling party, has made it possible for individuals seeking to recruit young people to engage violent action against the state easier,' said Bouka. 'And unfortunately, what we see is a clear sign that the East African community has not been able to mediate the situation in Burundi. In fact, it's going toward the direction of a civil war if we don't intervene."

Security forces have increased their presence in the capital, searching for weapons and youths they suspect to be involved in protests and armed groups.

Police spokesman, Pierre Nkurikiye told VOA Monday that operation is ongoing.

"In the city, police are continuing to secure the people and property. Police are doing its daily job,' he said.

Human rights groups have accused security forces and militia allied to the ruling party of abuses against civilians and protesters, an accusation denied by the Burundi government.

In a tweet Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for dialogue and said the killing must end including, he said, the 'disproportionate response by security forces.'

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