Kenya Airways and RwandAir cancelled their flights to the Burundian capital on Friday, officials said, after gunmen launched attacks on military bases in Bujumbura in the early hours of Friday morning.
“The reason we could not land is that there is no personnel,” said Kenya Airways Corporate Communications Manager Wanjiku Mugo, adding that all three of its daily flights were cancelled.
A RwandAir official said its flight to Bujumbura on Friday had also been cancelled.
It was not immediately clear if the airport had officially been shut.
Coordinated attacks on military bases in Burundi capital
Heavily-armed gunmen launched coordinated assaults on two army barracks in the Burundi capital on Friday leaving dozens dead, mostly attackers, in the worst unrest since a failed May coup, a senior military officer said.
The fighting began at around 4:00 am (0600 GMT) when “heavily armed men” attacked a base at Ngagara in the north of Bujumbura as well as a military training college in the south, according to the officer, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
“After more than two hours of clashes, the army repulsed the southern attack, while virtually all the attackers were killed in Ngagara base,” the officer said.
“There are dozens of deaths among the attackers, and we also have losses,” he said, adding the situation would soon be brought “completely” under control.
Clashes continued throughout the morning in different parts of the capital.
According to Jean-Claude Karerwa, deputy spokesman of President Pierre Nkurunziza, a cabinet meeting scheduled for Friday would address the situation.
A source in the presidency said a declaration of a state of emergency was under consideration.
Witnesses spoke of heavy firing, including artillery, lasting several hours at the army base in Ngagara and the ISCAM Higher Institute of Military Training in Musaga.
– Heaviest battles since coup bid –
The fighting is the heaviest since a failed coup in May, sparked by Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, which he later won in disputed elections in July.
Months of street protests have devolved into regular armed attacks with gunfire disrupting the nights and dead bodies appearing on city streets almost every day.
Attacks on security forces have escalated with frequent ambushes of police convoys by rebels armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and mortars aimed at government installations.
Frightened residents of Bujumbura said Friday’s fighting was the worst in months.
“I am holed up in the corridor of my house with my wife and children,” said Eric, a resident of Musaga.
“Pray for us because we will die!”
As gunfire continued around Bujumbura, a government spokesman claimed on Twitter that the attacks had been foiled.
Referring to the gunmen as “Sindumuja” — meaning “I am not a slave”, a name sometimes used for the insurgents — presidential media advisor Willy Nyamitwe wrote, “Tonight the #Sindumuja tried to attack military camps but they failed.”
Pacific Nininahazwe, an exiled civil society activist and anti-Nkurunziza protest leader said that, “at least two camps were attacked” and weapons looted and claimed that “soldiers have joined the rebels”.
Exchanges of fire could still be heard in several neighbourhoods of Bujumbura throughout Friday morning and streets were deserted as city residents stayed home.
“All bridges are under army control and no movement is being permitted from one area to another,” the senior military officer told AFP.
The UN and several foreign embassies urged their employees to stay at home and lock their doors.
“This is a very worrying escalation because it is genuine military, or paramilitary, operations taking place in the capital,” said one European diplomat.