Rwanda sees increasing risk as anti-Kigali rebels in DR Congo slip into protest-hit Burundi

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“FDLR elements have crossed into Burundi from the Congo and might even get involved directly in the continued unrest in the country” - Mushikiwabo

RWANDA rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are slipping across the border into Burundi, raising concerns that violence will escalate in the run-up to national elections, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said.

“We have information that some FDLR elements have crossed into Burundi from the Congo and might even get involved directly in the continued unrest in the country,” Mushikiwabo said, referring to the Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by the French acronym FDLR.

The FDLR has been active in Congo since fleeing from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, in which as many as 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered over 100 days. Burundi has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, similar to Rwanda.

“We have appealed to Burundian counterparts and we are assured they will take necessary actions in not allowing FDLR to set up base in Burundi,” Mushikiwabo told a local broadcaster.

Opponents of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu, have been demonstrating in the capital, Bujumbura, since he was nominated last month as the ruling party’s presidential candidate, saying he’ll flout a two-term limit. The president’s supporters argue that he’s only been popularly elected once because his first term was an appointment by parliament.

The Constitutional Court last week ruled Nkurunziza can legally run for a third and final mandate in the June 26 vote. The vice president of the court fled to Rwanda shortly before the ruling.

Several dead

The flare-up has disrupted years of relative calm since a peace accord in 2005 ended 12 years of ethnic conflict that left 300,000 people dead in the country.

In recent weeks, at least 17 people have died as protesters clashed with security personnel and 200 more have been wounded. More than 52,000 others have fled to neighbouring countries, scared off by the rising violence, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency. Opposition activists last year accused the ruling party’s youth militia, known as the Imbonerakure, of receiving paramilitary training in Congo.

The U.S., European Union and African Union have called for the elections to be postponed until order can be restored.

Burundi’s Catholic Bishops Conference on Wednesday urged the government to ensure that independent media can broadcast in the country to ensure free and fair elections.

“Only government and pro-government media are working properly,” the group said in a statement. “Other radios are closed or partially closed. In these conditions, it is difficult to endorse the results of elections which take place.”

Leaders from the five-nation East African Community—which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi—and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are meeting in Tanzania on Wednesday to try ease tensions and find a solution the crisis.

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