After booting Burundi out of AGOA, Obama slaps sanctions on four people over violence

Pressure on President Pierre Nkurunziza continues to pile as concern over a slide back to civil war deepens.

US President Barack Obama slapped sanctions against four top current and former security officials in Burundi Monday, linking them to the country’s descent into violence.

“We call upon all parties in Burundi to reject violence, and we will continue to investigate and impose consequences against leaders from the government or opposition who resort to violence and obstruct a political resolution to this crisis,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

The four named in the Executive Order are two current members of Nkurunziza’s government and two former members, who led a coup attempt against him in May. 

They are Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, minister of public security; Godefroid Bizimana, deputy director-general of the national police; Godefroid Niyombare, major general and former chief of Burundi’s intelligence service; and Cyrille Ndayirukiye, former minister of defence, with the White House adding that it was considering targeting more individuals.

“This Executive Order provides the authority to block the assets of those who, among other things, have engaged in or provided material support for actions that threaten peace and security in Burundi, undermine democratic processes, or who are responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses against people in Burundi,” the White House said, adding that visa restrictions were also included.  

“In enacting sanctions, the United States joins the European Union and the African Union, which have also decided to impose sanctions on those Burundians undermining peace in the country.”

Executive orders give the US president significant powers including to seize property. US citizens and firms are for example prohibited from dealing with the listed individuals.

Pierre Nkurunziza during his swearing in.

The move comes weeks after Obama announced that Burundi will be ejected from a pact offering African nations much-desired US market access, after the country’s president Pierre Nkurunziza grabbed a third term in office.

AGOA—the African Growth and Opportunity Act—was created more than a decade ago to help boost exports from the poorest African nations.

While Burundi’s exports to the US a minimal, valued at just several million dollars, any disruption would be significant for an economy already forecast by the IMF to contract by 7.2% this year.

“President Nkurunziza’s pursuit of a third term in office has precipitated a humanitarian, economic, and security crisis, forcing more than 200,000 Burundians to become refugees in neighbouring countries,” Obama said.

Washington said it had received reports of among others targeted killings and torture, and also noted retaliation by those opposed to the third term.

Burundi could be pulled back from the “precipice” it said if “all sides ...demonstrate the strength and leadership necessary to put aside violence and engage in an internationally-mediated dialogue outside Burundi.”

More bodies
At the weekend at least  four people were killed and others wounded, including police, in the latest clashes in months of unrest in Burundi’s troubled capital.

Heavy gunfire and grenade explosions were heard overnight Saturday, with the bodies of four people found on the streets on Sunday morning.

Burundi descended into violence in April after Nkurunziza launched a now successful bid for a third consecutive term in office, despite concerns over the legality of such a move. 

At least 240 people have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled the country since.

—Additional reporting by AFP

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