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Increasing Violence in Burundi Stokes Fear of Civil War

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 fear of civil war breaking out in Burundi is growing as violence and human rights violations in the country increase. The U.N. Human Rights Office says it is extremely worried about the situation in which activists and journalists are being targeted by agents of the country’s national intelligence agency.

It condemns the violence against a prominent human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonhimpa, who was badly injured after being shot by two people on a motorbike late Monday. It says it is deeply concerned by the brutal arrest and ill treatment two days ago of local reporter Esdras Ndikumana by agents belonging to the government’s Service National de Renseignement.

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said Ndikumana was arrested and brutalized by the SNR agents at their headquarters in the capital, Bujumbura.

“Mr. Ndikumana is currently under medical care, suffering from a broken finger and psychological trauma," said Pouilly. "We met the journalist at hospital and he says he is ready to testify. I mean, of course he fears for his life and he is very traumatized by what happened, But, yes, it is of concern that these are members of the Service National de Renseignement, SNR.”

Pouilly said the U.N. human rights office condemns all acts of violence including the killing of General Adolphe Nshimirimana, a former Burundi security chief. She said the large number of arbitrary arrests also are of great concern. She noted that more than 600 people have been arrested and remain in detention without charge, some of them since April.

She told VOA it is difficult to assess whether this escalating violence could lead to civil war, but she said that possibility is of great concern.

“The assassination of General Nshimirimana has raised lots of fears in Bujumbura and the rest of the country. Fear of retaliation and that could, you know, lead to more violence acts," said Pouilly. "Of course, we are really worried that this could turn to a further escalation and worsening of the situation in Burundi. It has been really, really tense. Of course, we are worried.”

The U.N. human rights office is calling for Burundian authorities to launch prompt, transparent, and thorough investigations into these incidents, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.