Burundi's government-sponsored crackdown intensified this week as security forces apprehended more than 100 men in a central province out of concern the youths were planning to join a rebel movement — indicating mounting internal fears of possible insurrection and opposition threats.
Fifty of the men were detained in Gitega province on Wednesday in a security raid as they were attempting to head to the country's south, the Associated Press reported, quoting the governor of the province, which is home to Burundi's second largest city. Dozens more men in the area were reportedly arrested on Tuesday under similar circumstances.
"We have been surprised by a huge number of young men taking the same direction… when Burundi is going through a difficult political, social and security situation," Governor Venant Manirambona said. "The services in charge of security had to arrest these persons."
Although authorities said the men were attempting to join a rebel group, officials did not specifically name any organization or faction.
This week's raids were noticeably larger than normal, but security forces have been conducting sweeps fairly regularly in the months after a controversial election that saw President Pierre Nkurunziza win a controversial third term in office.
The country's constitution — based on the Arusha peace accords agreed upon after a decade-long civil war — sets a two-term limit for the office of president. Nkurunziza and his supporters maintained, however, that he was eligible to run again because he was appointed to his first term in 2005 by parliament instead of running in a general election. Ultimately, the country's constitutional court sided with the president and cleared the way for him to run again.
The re-election campaign sparked clashes in the streets of Bujumbura between Nkurunziza's opponents and supporters, with violent crackdowns against demonstrators carried out by a police force that was largely loyal to the president. At least 70 people were killed in the clashes, and more than 100,000 Burundians fled to Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other neighboring states.
Typically the kinds of political raids like security forces carried out today result in just a handful of men detained — particularly in parts of the capital Bujumbura.
There have been rumors about rebel factions and even defectors from the ruling CNDD-FDD party organizing against the government. Innocent Muhozi, who runs the banned Renaissance Radio and Television Network of Burundi, underscored the fear spreading across the country, as well as within security forces.
"There is almost no state left in Burundi," Muhozi said. "There is widespread fear and chaos and the security forces are plagued by suspicion from within."
Torture has also become associated with these politically motivated arrests in recent months, according to Cara Jones, a political science professor at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. In a report last month, Amnesty International gathered testimonies from multiple individuals on the use of torture by Burundi's police and intelligence forces against individuals detained for participating in the demonstrations.
"There are unconfirmed reports that there are several known locations of torture around [Bujumbura]," Jones said, explaining that the crackdown shows "a real fear by CNDD-FDD that these guys are arming."
Internal fractures have long-existed within the CNDD-FDD, but recent rumors have circulated about party members defecting with the intention of rebelling. Additionally, a string of assassinations since the July elections has targeted individuals in power on both sides of the crisis. Last week armed men attempted and failed to gun down the army's chief of staff on the streets of the capital Bujumbura. Assassins killed an opposition party spokesman in the capital on Monday, and a high-ranking military officer was gunned down in August.
Paranoia has not been exclusive to the government, and as Muhozi explained, the sense in Burundi is one of pending conflict with little expectation that the government will come through to stabilize the situation.
"Everyone has given up on the government for a solution," Muhozi said. "The country is living as though it were expecting violence to break out at any moment."