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Burundi Denies Gun Battle Near Presidential Palace

  • Peter Clottey

FILE - An armed Burundian soldier is seen on patrol on a street in Bujumbura, Burundi, Nov. 8, 2015.

FILE - An armed Burundian soldier is seen on patrol on a street in Bujumbura, Burundi, Nov. 8, 2015.

A senior advisor to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has denied media reports there were overnight shootings near the presidential palace in the capital, Bujumbura.

Media reports quoted residents as saying five people were killed following a gun battle near the presidential palace late Saturday.

But senior presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe says insurgents aiming to create chaos have been engaging in gun fights at night and then spread rumors of the country’s political crisis on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

“We are dealing with a lot of [untruths] that are being spread through social media. But near the palace nothing happened. Three or four days back, a small shell was dropped, but since it was during the night, it sounded like it was near, so this is what people are trying to sell,” said Nyamitwe. "The insurgents in Burundi [have] adopted a new strategy and that is to shoot during the night so that ambassadors and journalists who are staying only in Bujumbura can think all [of] Burundi is on fire. Bujumbura is a small city, so shooting over the night makes a very heavy noise.”

Burundians expressed concern about growing violence following the decision of Nkurunziza to seek another term. The opposition and civil society groups accused Nkurunziza of violating the constitution as well as an accord signed in Arusha, Tanzania that ended Burundi's civil war.

Nyamitwe says in an effort to reduce the violence security agencies, including the police, have been peacefully disarming people who possess illegal weapons, despite concerns the move could worsen the crisis.

“The disarmament process is going on, so far it has been successful. People were spreading rumors that the government is going to bring [about] genocide or mass killing if the police go to disarm civilians, but so far everything is going smoothly. The government, the police and the local administration, and some civil society members as well as observers from the African Union are going to those neighborhoods to disarm the civilians,” said Nyamitwe. "Some civilians prefer to throw their weapons in the streets and they run away. What is important in our country is to get all these weapons that are killing innocent people ... And the government can assure the international community that everything is done professionally, and we do hope that this crisis is going to end.”

Meanwhile, civil society groups say the government is violating the constitution by clamping down on their activities. They say the administration has frozen their bank accounts, after accusing them of being part of a May attempt to overthrow the government. The groups deny the charges.

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