US Warns Against Travel to Burundi Amid a Wave of Violent Attacks

In the lead-up to the 2015 presidential elections, armed gangs are carrying out attacks throughout the country. No one really knows who they are or what they want.

by Virgile Dall’Armellina
Nov 10 2014, 7:50pm

image via Flickr

On Friday night men armed with machetes looted several houses and wounded two men in Bujumbura, the port city capital of Burundi, which is located on the shores of Lake Taganyika in Africa's Great Lakes region. According to French radio station RFI, the attack took place in the working class neighborhood of Musaga, just south of the city center.

Video of two men wounded in machete attack by Telerenaissance.

The incident is the latest in a wave of attacks that have terrorized the capital and several towns in the west and center of the country. The police have so far failed to make a single arrest related to the attacks and the US has voiced its concern over the security situation in Burundi, with the State Department warning US citizens against non-essential travel to the region. The Belgian government has also issued a travel warning for certain regions of its former colony, which gained independence in 1962.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs at the US Department of State advised via its website that Somalia-based jihadist terrorist group — al Shabaab has warned of impending attacks in Burundi, a country where weapons are widely available.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, leader of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy party (FDD), has been in power for nearly 10 years, since the end of the civil war that tore the country apart between 1993 and 2005, a result of the long-standing ethnic conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes. Nkurunziza is allegedly considering a third term, despite the two-term limit imposed by the Burundian constitution. Members of the opposition have accused the country's independent electoral commission, CENI, of a pro-FFD bias.

In a statement released on November 4, the Burundian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its dismay at the US and Belgium's travel warnings, saying that it "regrets this type of posturing that aims to present Burundi as a country gripped by a notable level of insecurity." The ministry also stated that, "Everything is being done to curtail the wave of criminal activity that surfaces like clockwork around the time of general elections." The ministry further attested that, "overall security is good" throughout Burundi, despite frequent reports of ambushes by armed gangs, particularly on the backroads out of the capital.

Burundian news site Bujumbura News reported that Minister of the Interior Édouard Nduwimana claimed to have "satisfactory proof that terrorist groups are [operating] on Burundian soil," during round-table talks with religious leaders on November 3. According to Nduwimana, Islamist terrorist groups have already recruited Burundians members, and arrests have already taken place.

A source working for the Burundian intelligence services told RFI in early November that two young Burundians allegedly recruited through Koranic schools had been arrested in the town of Gahumo, in the eastern region of Cankuzo.

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