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Burundi's Government Trying to Disarm Civilians

Burundi police patrol the streets of Musaga district in the capital Bujumbura after the results of the presidential elections were released, July 24, 2015.

The U.S. State Department has called on Burundi's government to disarm all militias, including the ruling party's youth wing, the Imbonerakure, to prevent a further escalation of violence.

Burundi's government says a disarmament program is underway. Critics say the program, however, is targeting areas that opposed the president's bid for a third term.

Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, has seen a rise in clashes involving police. Police said Wednesday that officers shot and killed two "insurgents" who had fired on them. On Sunday, police allegedly killed two opposition activists.

Government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe said such attacks have prompted security agencies to carry out sweeps in neighborhoods that have witnessed months of protests.

“The police and the army going into these suburbs to try to remove all the guns from the civilians," he said. "This is what is being done right now and we hope in a few days all the guns will be removed from those persons and those persons who are being sought will be brought to justice.”

Constitutional issues

Witnesses and officials say some residential areas, like Jabe in central Bujumbura, have seen multiple disarmament raids. Some residents accuse the government of taking revenge against them for demanding that President Pierre Nkurunziza not seek a third term.

Nkrunziza was re-elected in July, but only after withstanding a storm of protest from opponents, who said he was violating term limits in the constitution.

In his inauguration speech last month, he promised to unite the country, bring an end to violence, and called for what he termed "security committees" to work with the country's security agencies.

The State Department said that call was worrisome, as the "committees" apparently includes the ruling party’s militia, the Imobonerakure.

Human rights groups have accused the Imbonerakure of attacking protesters and carrying out human rights abuses.

Nyamitwe says the president called on all Burundians to work and help security forces to secure the country.

“It means that everybody in the country, all the persons — Hutus and Tutsis, persons from all religions, social groups — should collaborate with the army and the police in order to arrest every person that is suspected because we need to secure our country 100 percent,” said Nyamitwe.

The United States is still pushing the Burundian government to join opposition leaders in a national dialogue. Without it, some observers fear political tensions could rip apart a country less than a decade removed from civil war.