People of Burundi Flee in Mass as Rebel Groups Align

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The different rebel groups around Burundi have formed one cohesive unit known as the Republican Forces of Burundi. The group’s goal is to “drive out Nkurunziza by force to restore the Arusha accord and democracy.” The rebels and government forces have clashed on many different occasions, and the rebel groups even launched a failed mortar attack on the Presidential Palace.

On Monday, April 11, 2016, ABC News reported 6 people had been killed by gunmen believed to have been fighting for a rebel opposition group. The group of rebels are believed to be working with Leonidas Hatungimana, a former spokesman for Nkurunziza who advised against him running for a third term. The group opened fire on a busy market in a Burundian town near the Burundi-Tanzania border. It is believed that Hatungimana fled to Tanzania, so it is possible for his group of rebels to launch strikes on or near the border region.

The Guardian reports that roughly 250,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries as violence continues to worsen within the country. Since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran, and was elected, for a third term in 2015.

Since Nkurunziza’s re-election over 400 people have been killed, as protestors and security forces have clashed on numerous occasions. It is believed that opposition militia groups are training in neighboring countries, and it appears that Burundi is on the brink of a second civil was in just over a decade.

Besides the rebel groups, the government forces may be increasing their activity against dissenters. U.S. News published an article discussing the recent disappearance of dozens, if not hundreds, of Burundi citizens. Many believe that the government is abducting dissenters and killing them. Nkurunziza may be trying to remove anyone who speaks out against his government in order to keep the rebel factions from gaining influence. If it is true that the government is abducting dissenters, it will only further exacerbate the already deteriorating stability in the country.

The African Union (AU) has offered to intervene in the conflict, but their offer was met with fierce opposition from the Nkurunziza and the rebels alike. Instead, the AU decided to send delegates in hopes of sparking peace talks between the two sides.

Following Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, protests broke out amongst the opposition. Major General Godefroid Niyombare even launched a failed coup attempt while Nkurunziza was at an African Summit meeting in Tanzania.

Burundi is no stranger to political violence. In 1993, a civil war broke out between the Hutus and Tutsi when Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated. What followed was a twelve-year war that killed over 300,000 people, and ended with a peace accord and new constitution.

During the civil war, Nkurunziza was the head of a Hutu rebel group by the name of National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). The group was accused of several human rights abuses including “torture, beatings, and executions.” Nkurunziza was even sentenced to death for the atrocities committed by his group, but was later acquitted during the peace process.

The outrage over Nkurunziza running for a third term spurs from critics who see this as breaking the constitution. Burundi’s constitution, similar to the U.S.’s, allows for a candidate to only sit in office for two consecutive terms. However, Nkurunziza does not consider his time as President from 2005-2010 to be considered his first term, as he was elected by parliament and not the people.

The current conflict may even draw in neighboring countries. The Herald reports that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is aiding President Nkurunziza in hunting down opposition militias. The DRC has also been plagued by violence for over 15 years, and its government understands the destruction that can be brought on my multiple militia groups. The DRC also may be hoping to limit the conflict to prevent more refugees from entering its borders.

There has yet to be a full out civil war between the Presidential and rebel forces, but there may be an increase of violence on the horizon. The rebels intend to remove Nkurunziza from power with any means necessary, and unless peace is found, civil war will rage.

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