After weeks of assassinations, murders, and clashes with police in Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has issued an ultimatum to the country's citizens: Give up your guns by Saturday, or else you will "be dealt with as enemies of the nation."
Nkurunziza made the announcement in a national speech on Monday, the same day that authorities said police killed eight people during a shootout with an alleged group of criminals near the capital Bujumbura. People who turn over their weapons by the November 7 deadline will also be "trained on patriotic education."
"Those who will not do so… will be taken as criminals and be prosecuted according to the anti-terrorism law and be dealt with as enemies of the nation," Nkurunziza said. "This is the last call we make."
At the same time, the leader ordered Burundi's police force to restore security in the country by December. "You are allowed to use all the necessary means and authorized rules and regulations in security matters," he told the country's cops.
Assassins have targeted supporters of Burundi's government, military officials, journalists, opposition members, and human rights workers since Nkurunziza won a controversial third term in office in July. Reports of dead bodies in the streets of the capital have regularly surfaced on social media, and security raids on alleged rebel groups have also occurred.
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According to the United Nations, more than 200 Burundians have been killed in unrest since Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, announced in April that he would seek a third term in office.
Critics argued the move was illegal due to the two-term limit outlined in the country's constitution, which was established in 2005 after a decade-long civil war. The nation's high court ultimately cleared Nkruniziza to run again, determining that it was legal because he had been appointed to his first term rather than democratically elected.
The successful 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. More than 150,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other neighboring states.
While demilitarizing the current situation in Burundi is crucial, considering how security forces have operated in recent months, Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst at Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, raised concern about whether the order for citizens to hand over their weapons was merely an attempt by Nkurunziza to disarm opponents.
"This call could be a recipe for disaster," Cinq-Mars said. "The concern is that he's going to use this call to try and disarm the opposition to maintain the monopoly of use of force in the country."
Cinq-Mars highlighted the need to revive political negotiations in the country as soon as possible. Ugandan officials arrived in Burundi on Thursday in an attempt to revive talks among Burundi's political stakeholders.
"It doesn't appear that many people are safe in Burundi given the situation," Cinq-Mars said. "There needs to be a meaningful revival of political negotiations that needs to happen to bring the country back from the brink."
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