Burundi on edge: AU calls for calm, as Nkurunziza urges restraint over high-profile assassination

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Former chief of intelligence and key ally to Burundi president was killed by a rocket fired at his car, as concerns swirl over stability.

THE African Union appealed for calm in Burundi after unidentified attackers killed a top general and adviser to President Pierre Nkurunziza, leading to the normally low-key country’s leader in a national address to call for restraint following fears over retaliation.

General Adolphe Nshimirimana, the former head of intelligence in Burundi, died Sunday when a group of unidentified men attacked him in the capital, Bujumbura. 

The incident is likely to further destabilise the East African nation, African Union Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma said in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.

Dlamini-Zuma called on Burundians to “exercise utmost restraint, not be provoked and to refrain from any acts of retaliation that would only further escalate and complicate the already bad situation.”

Nkurunziza in a short radio address Sunday urged calm, especially in the Kamenge district of Bujumbura, a stronghold of Nshimirimana, and which was relatively calm in the protests that hit the country earlier this year. 

Nshimirimana was a patriot, the president said, acknowledging his services to the nation. 

In his first address to the nation since his controversial re-election last month, he also gave his security forces seven days to find the general’s killer.

Police and witnesses said Gen Nshimirimana’s pick-up was hit by two rockets and sprayed with automatic gunfire in the capital on Sunday morning, and he was later confirmed dead, along with his driver.  

The manner of the killing also adds to concerns the situation may spiral out of control. 

The assassination comes just over a week after Nkurunziza was declared the outright winner of controversial elections, securing a third consecutive term despite opposition protests and international condemnation.

Killed: Adolphe Nshimirimana

Nkurunziza’s candidacy was condemned as unconstitutional by the opposition and provoked months of protests that left at least 100 dead in a fierce government crackdown, as well as an attempted coup in mid-May.  

Nshimirimana was seen as the mastermind behind the crackdown on the protests as well as a key player in foiling the coup attempt. 

A source in the presidency Sunday said the situation in Burundi was “serious” and warned of a possible wave of revenge attacks. “The situation is very serious. The general was somebody who was essential in the system,” said the source, who asked not to be named, according to news agency AFP. 

“We are trying to manage the situation but it is not easy. Our boys want to take revenge.”  

Police sources said seven arrests were made, and a source in Burundi’s National Intelligence Service, the SNR, said security forces were “nervous”.  

“You cannot imagine what General Adolphe represented for us,” the source said.  “They have declared war and they will see what they get,” said another top pro-Nkurunziza general, who asked not to be named.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assassination, although the coup plotters have since regrouped and have launched a rebellion in the north of the country, and have also been linked to a string of grenade attacks in Bujumbura. 

There are fears that renewed conflict in the country could reignite ethnic Hutu-Tutsi violence and bring another humanitarian disaster to central Africa’s troubled Great Lakes region. 

The last civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2006, left at least 300,000 people dead.

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