Tension as Burundi Army Distributes Weapons to Hutu Militia
According to a leaked UN cable to the U. S Envoy to United Nations, Samantha Power, in January and February this year, “there was distribution of weapons and military outfits to the youth affiliated to CNDD-FDD (Imbonerakure) party and the demobilised ex-AIMP Rumonge.”
A UN official in Bujumbura, whose name we’ll not reveal for security reasons, said in a “confidential” memo to his bosses in New York on April 3, 2014 that “a meeting was held in a hotel known as Kukanyamuneza belonging to a ‘Brigadier General’ in Nduwumunsi in Rumonge” to draw a plan on doling out the weapons.
He further observed that a night training for the handling of these weapons was held near the Central Prison of Rumonge (Kumurembwe) and that the surrounding population heard the gunfire.
In what appears as a call for immediate intervention, the UN official says “one can only speculate about the purpose of the distribution of weapons and uniforms in Bururi which is a traditional stronghold of the UPRONA.”
The UN is also informed that radio messages have been passed around for the population “to be ready.”
The shocking developments come just a few days after Rwanda commemorated 20 years after genocide in which one million people mainly Tutsi were butchered by the Interahamwe, a ruthless militia trained and armed by the genocidal regime of Juvenal Habyarimana.
History could be repeating itself since the Interahamwe were also mobilised through radio messages, urging killing of the Tutsi “cockroaches.”
The Interahamwe formed RTLM, the genocidal radio station which was used to broadcast where the Tutsis were fleeing.
It should be remembered that UPRONA recently pulled out of the coalition government following attempts to manipulate Parliament to amend the Constitution with the view of securing to seek a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Interestingly, after Parliament refused to scrap the constitutional two-term presidential limit, the Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said Nkurunziza will still stand for a third term in 2015.
“It is the intention of some political actors to believe that Parliament resolved the question of the third term, please be informed that that is not true,” Nduwimana was recently quoted as briefing participants at the International conference on “Interreligious Dialogue for Peace and Conflict Prevention and Wars in Africa” in Bujumbura.
The militia on a military training
He further said it should be known that Nkurunziza will stand for President and that “this matter will be decided by the Constitutional Court.”
The remarks signalled government’s determination to sidestep Parliament in attempting to secure a third term for Nkurunziza even if it means risking a civil war in Burundi.
According to Article 96 of the Constitution based on Arusha Accords that set the guidelines of electing leaders in Burundi following decades of brutal civil wars, it was decided that the President “shall be elected for a term of five years, renewable only once. No one may serve more than two presidential terms.”
According to the cable, a UN official in Bujumbura warned that the “Imbonerakure act in collusion with local authorities and with total impunity. In the countryside they have replaced law enforcing agencies and act as militia over and above the police, the army and the judiciary. Opposition parties have repeatedly complained about the Imbonerakure’s violence.”
He further stated that in February 500 uniforms disappeared from military and police installations before 9mm pistols were handed over to the militia.
Diplomatic sources Chimpreports talked to on Wednesday night said Samantha Power chose to travel to Burundi in the wake of this eyebrow-raising communication.
On Monday, Power, who also visited Rwanda and war-torn Central African Republic, said United States is seeing “worrying signs of political exclusion and oppression” in Burundi and that she “can’t help but have Rwanda on my mind.”
She further said that “in the past several months Burundi’s post-civil war progress has begun to unravel as government moves to strip political freedoms and stifle dissent. In the world today, we’re seeing far too many victims of ethnic and religiously motivated violence and hate.”
Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza
Power pointed out that “efforts to undermine the Arusha consensus on power-sharing and political inclusion will put a hard-won peace at risk.”
At least 250,000 people died in Burundi’s 16-year civil war that ended in 2009 as the Tutsi-dominated army fought the battle-hardened Hutu rebels.
While Samantha did not mention particulars in the UN communication, she was Tuesday quoted by Time Magazine as saying “The Burundian president has taken a set of moves internally that we’re very worried about. We’re very concerned that some of the political steps that he’s taking really jeopardize much of what Burundi has built since it endured its own spate of mass killings 20 years ago, then again more recently.”
While visiting Burundi, Power said the Rwanda genocide began twenty years ago this week “is a reminder to us all of the horrific violence that can result from ethnic antagonism and a reminder of the need for constant vigilance to ensure that leaders act in time to prevent the kind of political unraveling that could lead to conflict and to mass atrocities.
… my government was very disturbed by the events of March 8, when fighting broke out in connection with two separate events sponsored by opposition political parties. These events seem reflective of a broader erosion, shrinking of political space for opposition and independent voices in Burundi – including new and restrictive media and assembly laws. An environment of free and open dialogue is essential, especially as the government considers changes to Burundi’s post-war constitution.”
According to the cable, “the Imbonerakure actions have been on the rise since the beginning of the year and are one of the major threats to peace in Burundi and to the credibility of the 2015 elections as they are responsible for most politically motivated violence against opposition.”
27 cases implicating the militia so far in 2014 have been documented with 32 being politically motivated.
This website was unable to reach Burundi officials for comment
After years of bloodshed and destruction of the country’s infrastructure, Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere facilitated Arusha Peace Accords that saw several rebel groups, including the ruling CNDD-FDD, lay down weapons.
Under the Arusha agreement, the Government is made up of 60 percent Hutu, 40 percent Tutsi; the National Assembly has the same ratio; and the Senate (an institution presumably designed “to assure the minority”) and the Army are explicitly to be constituted of 50 percent Hutu, 50 percent Tutsi. The Senate also allocates three seats to the Twa minority.
After ten years of a Hutu President, the Tutsis now feel marginalised especially by the ruling government’s attempts to entrench Nkurunziza’s hold on power.
The Tutsi who form 14 percent of the total population (according to 2009 statistics), ruled Burundi for decades after gaining Independence from Belgium in 1962.
The Hutu (85 percent of total population) felt discriminated considering that at the time top positions in the army and other government bodies were occupied by Tutsis.
It was not until the signing of the Unity Charter in 1991 that former President Pierre Buyoya opened up political space for a multiparty democracy. This ended the monopoly of UPRONA. However, three years later, Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated just three months after taking over office.
The killing of Ndadaye plunged Burundi into unprecedented turmoil with Hutu rebellions springing up from different parts of the country to put an end to Tutsi’s domination.