Bujumbura residents flee as illegal weapons amnesty expires today

Saturday November 07 2015

Police officers stand at a check point in Bujumbura, Burundi. Residents are fleeing city suburbs seen as hotbeds of anti-Nkurunziza dissent for fear of their safety. PHOTO | REUTERS

Security forces are set to carry out a major operation in Bujumbura as President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ultimatum on armed groups to surrender expires this weekend.

Residents are fleeing city suburbs seen as hotbeds of anti-Nkurunziza dissent for fear of their safety.

Businesses in Cibitoke, Mutakura and Musaga have closed down. The three districts have seen heavy fighting since Monday between unidentified armed groups and the police and they are likely to be targeted in an operation. Four people were killed on Wednesday night in an exchange of fire with the police.

READ: Burundi president sets deadline to give up guns

“I am moving to a safer place for at least a month because I’m afraid the coming operation may affect all those who are staying in this area,” said a resident of Mutakura.

President Nkurunziza last Monday gave a five-day ultimatum to civilians to surrender illegally owned weapons or face what is expected to be a major crackdown.


“Forced disarmament will start from November 8, so all those who illegally possess weapons should hand them over to the authorities,” the president said in his address to the nation. “Whoever doesn’t hand over the weapons before the deadline will be considered an enemy of the state.”

Roadblocks have been erected around the capital.

The government accuses some opposition and civil society leaders of destabilising the country and has issued arrest warrants against notable figures.

The president has in the past few months issued several ultimatums to armed groups to surrender in exchange for amnesty but this has not stopped frequent flare-ups of violence in the capital, especially in areas perceived to be opposition strongholds.

“Security forces will do all they can to work in a professional way and make sure there is no collateral damage,” Burundi Police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye told The EastAfrican. “We are going to take all measures without breaking the law.”

The disarmament of civilians has been going on for two months after the president challenged security forces to restore stability by the end of October. Dead bodies are still being found on the city streets, despite the government’s efforts to beef up security at night.

READ: Burundian Police begin guns mop-up

“The Burundi government is responsible for the security of its people,” said Vital Nshimirimana, a civil society leader who is in exile. “Violence is not the way to solve problems; it will be done through inclusive dialogue.”

According to the police spokesperson, eight people were killed and 18 others arrested during a confrontation between security forces and an armed group in Nyabiraba, on the outskirts of Bujumbura, last Saturday.

African Union chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed her concern over the continued acts of violence and statements that are likely to incite violence.

READ: Burundi crisis poses 'devastating’ risk for region - AU