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US Envoy Warns Burundi Leaders Could Face Prosecution

FILE - Stephen Rapp, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues

The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues said Wednesday that those behind ongoing violence in Burundi could face prosecution.

In an interview with VOA’s Central Africa service, Stephen Rapp said peaceful demonstrators continue to be shot at in the streets of the capital, Bujumbura. He said the U.S. is particularly concerned with violence committed by the youth militia of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure.

“We are sending a strongest message we can that those that commit them [acts of violence] — in particular, those that incite them, order them, arm and deploy the forces that are committing these crimes — will be held to account," Rapp said.

The protests in Burundi were sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in elections set for July 15. Critics say the president is violating term limits in the constitution and the Arusha accords that ended the country's civil war.

Rapp warned that those involved in violence and killings in Burundi would most likely end up at the International Criminal Court.

“Burundi is a state party of the ICC, and this very much could be a situation in which individuals, even leaders, could be held to account for these crimes," he said. "And very clearly, that will happen if these levels of killing and incitement continue.

“It is important to stop the violence and to no longer shoot down people who are exercising their rights peacefully,” he said.

Rapp, who served as prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone and a senior trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, also urged Burundian political actors to avoid playing the "ethnic card."

Burundi, like neighboring Rwanda, experienced deep tensions between Hutus and Tutsis in the past.

“One of the things that concerns us the most is people bringing back ethnic issues,” said Rapp, adding that one of the things that was accomplished in Arusha was ending ethnic division.

“The opposition to the current government isn’t coming from an ethnic basis but on a political basis," he said. "Going back to the past is an effort to play an ethnic card. It is false, dangerous, and it is a crime of incitement to commit genocide, which is prosecutable in the ICC and in the laws of every state.”