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Burundi Pledges to Protect Citizens and Foreign Nationals

  • James Butty

FILE - A Burundian soldier with his gun and rocket launcher guard a deserted street in Bujumbura, Burundi.

FILE - A Burundian soldier with his gun and rocket launcher guard a deserted street in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Burundi’s government said any country that wishes to evacuate its nationals from Burundi has the sovereign right to do so. But Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe said the Burundian government will continue to fulfill its responsibility to protect not only its citizens but all foreigners.

Sunday, the U.S. State Department told U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Burundi, and recommended that those already in the country leave as soon as possible as political violence persists. More than 80 people were killed last Friday when armed attackers raided army facilities in the capital, Bujumbura.

The European Union Mission in Bujumbura last month evacuated its nonessential staff and family members.

Nyamitwe said while there are some challenges, the government has the security situation in the country under control, including in the capital, Bujumbura. In addition, he said no expatriate has ever been threatened or killed in Burundi since the demonstrations began.

“I don’t think we have much to say. It’s a decision of a sovereign state. They know why they made this decision. We are ready to protect their citizens. If you read the statement, it clearly says that foreigners have never been targeted and as far the government believes their citizens will be protected. Now, if the insurgents or any other or any other groups decide to attack foreign citizens, that’s a quite different issue. But we have decided to protect all citizens, including foreigners,” he said.

Nyamitwe said the security situation in the country, including the capital is under control, contrary to reports.

“I wouldn’t like to say that things are very unstable. We have challenges which we have not denied. But as I said to you, the situation is under control, including in the capital, Bujumbura where a few days insurgents decided to attack,” Nyamitwe said.

There were reports this week that the Burundian government was seeking the extradition from Rwanda of four Burundian journalists belonging to a number of private media institutions – Radio Isanganiro and Radio-TV Renaissance.

The government launched a crackdown on independent media after the May 13th failed coup attempt, accusing them of supporting the protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term.

Nyamitwe said while the Burundian justice minister will be able to adequately address the extradition question, he knows however that some of those believed to be involved in the failed coup need to be brought to justice.

After the Burundian government’s consultation with the European Union this month in Brussels, Nyamitwe said the government was going to expedite investigations of media houses which were shut down by what he called “judicial measures” because of their alleged roles in last May’s alleged failed coup.

A man looks across at spent bullet casings lying on a street in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

A man looks across at spent bullet casings lying on a street in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

He denied the decision to seek the extradition of exiled independent media journalists from Rwanda was tantamount to setting back the reconciliation clock

“First of all, if there were extradition warrants, they were issued before we met in Brussels. Number 2, when we met in Brussels, we agreed that in fact what we were going to do was to expedite any investigation into the alleged coup. Now, if those people are part of that investigation, of course the investigation will speak to the issue. And then once the investigation has cleared those journalists or radio stations, I don’t see any hindrance for them to start operating or airing,” Nyamitwe said.

The Washington-based humanitarian group Refugees International said Monday it is concerned about claims from Burundian refugees in Rwanda who said they have been recruited by armed groups in Burundi.

Rwanda is hosting nearly one-third of Burundian refugees, including 45,000 at its Mahama camp. Refugees International's report cites international officials who describe recruitment efforts at Mahama, mainly targeting adult men, but some cases involving children between the ages of 15 and 17.

Foreign Minister Nyamitwe said the report confirms what the Burundian government has been saying.

“We’ve been saying that refugees in Rwanda have been targets of recruitment for people who were conscripted forcefully in armed groups aimed at destabilizing Burundi,” Nyamitwe said.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen senior military and police officials in Burundi have gone on trial for their alleged involvement in a failed coup attempt to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The 28 defendants, including former defense minister Cyrille Ndayirukiye and five generals, appeared in a courtroom Friday in the central town of Gitega.

Prosecutors said the men are charged with trying to overthrow the government in May, as well as killing soldiers and other acts of violence.

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