Days after top Burundi general assassinated, ruling party official shot dead outside Bujumbura

Critics claim hardliners in Nkurunziza’s regime might have killed Nshimirimana to either justify or provoke a wider crackdown.

BARELY two days after after a top Burundian general and close aide to President Pierre Nkurunziza was killed Sunday, a local leader of Burundi’s ruling party has been shot dead near the country’s capital.

According to Jean Bosco Ndarubayemwo, the leader of the party’s feared youth militia Imbonerakure, Come Harerimana was shot dead while riding his motorcycle near Bujumbura.

At least two suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder.

Other members of the governing CNDD-FDD have been the target of recent attacks in the area, said Ndarubayemwo, without elaborating.

On Sunday, general Adolphe Nshimirimana, widely seen as the crisis-hit central African nation’s de facto internal security chief and even considered the regime’s number-two, was killed in an ambush on his car in the capital Bujumbura.

General 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. 

Nshirimana was the highest placed regime figure to be killed since unrest began in Burundi in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term, which opponents say violates a two- mandate limit.

Last month Nkurunziza won the vote that was boycotted by the opposition, and which the UN said wasn’t credible.

More than 180,000 people have fled since unrest began in Burundi in April.

Nshimirimana was seen as the mastermind behind the crackdown on anti-Nkurunziza protestors as well as a key player in foiling the May coup attempt by a faction of the military opposed to his continued stay in office.

Retaliation
After Nshimirimana’s assassination, a source in the presidency 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.

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

 “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.  

The murder of Harerimana therefore risks renewing conflict in the country that could bring another humanitarian disaster to central Africa’s troubled Great Lakes region. The last civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2005, left at least 300,000 people dead.

Kept up attacks
The Burundi government, for its part, has kept up its attacks on the media and civil society activist.

On Monday, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders lashed out  at the “despicable assault” against an AFP reporter in Burundi, who said he was detained and badly beaten after a top general was assassinated.

Esdras Ndikumana, a prominent Burundian journalist who works for Agence France-Presse and Radio France Internationale (RFI), said he was held for around two hours, during which he said he was subjected to severe beatings on his back, legs and the soles of his feet.

He was later released and hospitalised, with the injuries also including a broken finger.

The political crisis in Burundi has seen independent media outlets shut down and many journalists have fled the country or have gone into hiding because of threats and attacks.

Opposed president
On the same Monday, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, a well-known human rights defender, was seriously injured in a shooting in the capital.

“He has been very badly wounded, he is in hospital,” said Balthazar Fengure of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees, adding that Mbonimpa had publicly opposed Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term in office.

Relatives said Tuesday Mbonimpa was in stable condition.

The violence in Burundi has polarised an already-divided country.

After Nshimirimana’s assassination, Nkurunziza’s critics took to social media to claim his killing was a “conspiracy” by regime hardliners to either justify or provoke a wider crackdown on opponents.

Some even claimed the same hardliners could have killed Nshimirimana because he was too powerful and had become a threat in a country where the president is feeling besieged.

-Additional reporting Bloomberg and AFP.

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