African Union sounds alarm bells, says Burundi crisis poses 'catastrophic' risk for region

Many people are worried at rising tensions in the capital Bujumbura, where gunfire is regularly heard at night.

THE African Union warned Sunday of potential “catastrophic consequences” for troubled Burundi and the wider region if rivals do not resolve political differences peacefully.

One day after the former head of Burundi’s army during its 13-year civil war was assassinated, further fuelling fears of a new conflict, AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called for “utmost restraint” by all sides.

“This despicable act, and multiple other acts of violence recorded in recent months, illustrates yet again the gravity of the situation in Burundi - and the real risk of seeing a further deterioration with catastrophic consequences both for the country itself, and for the whole region,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.

Violence erupted in Burundi in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his now successful but controversial bid for a third term in power, despite weeks of protests and a failed coup against him.

Colonel Jean Bikomagu, a key figure in the former Tutsi-dominated army, was gunned down on Saturday in his car by unidentified assailants in the capital Bujumbura.

The murder comes less than two weeks after the assassination of top general Adolphe Nshimirimana—widely seen as the country’s de-facto internal security chief—in a rocket attack.

The day after the general’s killing civil rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, who had repeatedly accused Nshimirimana of ordering the deaths of government opponents, was himself wounded in an assassination attempt.

The escalation of violence has spawned fears that the tiny country in east-central Africa could be plunged back into civil war, with many fearful of pro-government reprisals after Nshimirimana’s death.

Bikomagu was a major figure in the army during the civil war which raged between 1993 and 2006 and left at least 300,000 people dead.

Gunfire at night 

Dlamini-Zuma called for the “need for dialogue and consensus to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the current crisis”, and said the AU continued to back mediation efforts led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Many people are worried at rising tensions in the capital Bujumbura, where gunfire is regularly heard at night.

Nkurunziza, a 51-year-old former sports teacher and born-again Christian, was a Hutu rebel leader during the civil war.

That war pitted rebels from the majority Hutu people against an army dominated by the minority Tutsi.

The opposition, the United States and much of the international community claimed a third term violated the Arusha accords that had brought the civil war to an end.

But after months of bloodshed Nkurunziza was reelected in July after a delayed vote which was boycotted by the opposition and condemned internationally as being neither free nor fair.

The army has been hugely divided by the crisis, with the leaders of the July coup having gone into hiding.

Top international envoys from the United Nations, AU, European Union, Belgium and United States this week called on all sides to “recommit to a transparent, inclusive, and comprehensive political dialogue”.

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