UK warns as 5,000 flee Burundi amid protests


The UN refugee Agency says over the weekend, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda jumped significantly, with over 5,000 refugees entering the country in just two days.

Addressing press at the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday, the UNHCR spokesperson, Ariane Rummery, said since the beginning of April, nearly 21,000 Burundians, mostly women and children have fled to Rwanda saying that they have experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.

The Government of Rwanda has allocated land in Mahama, in the Eastern Province to open a new refugee camp.

Ariane says due to the sharp increase of new arrivals, the conditions in the two reception centers, Bugesera and Nyanza, have become more and more congested and they are expecting to relocate all refugees by Friday 1 May.

“Since conducting the rapid assessment mission of the new site in Mahama sector, UNHCR immediately mobilized our teams and partners to erect over 450 family tents to accommodate over 4,000 people, 7 hangars, 80 latrines, 80 showers, a health post and security post.”

Rwanda is already hosting more than 74,000 refugees, mostly from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During the month of April, over 3,800 Burundian nationals mostly from Cibitoke prefecture, fled to the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Burundi protests

Last Saturday, the official list of candidates to run in the Burundian Presidential elections on 26 June was announced which sparked demonstrations and violence in the nation’s capital.

People are still demonstrating the nomination of President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for a third term in office.

Government told diplomats on Tuesday to stay neutral and not side with protesters who accuse Nkurunziza of violating the constitution by announcing he will seek a third term in office.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets for a third day yesterday spreading the unrest from the capital Bujumbura to the second biggest city, Gitega.

They were met with teargas and live bullets from security.

Six protesters have been killed and about 320 people arrested since protests erupted on Sunday, Burundi’s police Chief, André Ndayambaje, told Reuters.

UN intervenes  

The United Nations said Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has already dispatched his special envoy for the Great Lakes region to Burundi for talks with Nkurunziza and the opposition.

But Opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, told press that “Nkurunziza has to abandon seeking a third term to prevent the country from massive violence and killings”.

AU to defuse Burundi situation

The African Union says it will be sending a team of envoys to Burundi to help “defuse current tension.”

The decision was reached on Tuesday evening after a meeting of AU’s Peace and Security Council members.

AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the team, whose number was not immediately given, will help identify “practical measures” in resolving the crisis in Burundi.

“We are sending a high-level AU delegation to help defuse situation in Burundi,” she wrote on her Twitter page on Tuesday evening.

Burundi warns diplomats

“In such a situation, the Burundi government asks you to observe diplomatic neutrality,” the first deputy president, Prosper Bazombanza, is quoted by Reuters telling a meeting with ambassadors from the United States, Europe and African nations to discuss the crisis.

Bazombanza said the protesters wanted to disrupt a series of elections which start in May with local council and parliamentary polls, followed by a presidential vote on June 26.

Foreign Minister Laurent Kavakure told ambassadors that the protests were “illegally turning into an insurrection movement”.

West warns Nkurunziza

His nearest neighbour and Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, had told Nkurunziza to back off the third term and respect the Arusha Accord that allows only two terms.

The United States, other Western nations and regional African countries had warned Nkurunziza not to seek a third term.

Washington said it was disappointed he was doing so and warned it would take steps against those behind any violence.

Yesterday, the UK government advised against all but essential travel to Burundi, and against all travel to some parts of the country including Cibitoke and Bubanza provinces, Ruvubu National Park, the road north of Bujumbura airport towards Cibitoke and the main road running west from Kayanza through the Kibira National Park.

“There is a risk of large political demonstrations becoming violent around the CNDD-FDD Party headquarters and key government buildings in Bujumbura,” said an advisory from the Commonwealth office.

“Pre-election tensions are possible throughout the country and you should restrict your movements to essential travel only, particularly pronounced in the provinces of Cibitoke and Bubanza.”

It warned of street crime, armed burglary and an underlying threat from terrorism.

“Al Shabaab has made public threats against Burundi because of its support to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.”

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