Mon, Jul 14, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Burundi youth wing sparks fear ahead of 2015 elections


Burundian opposition activist Jean-Claude Bikorimana pulls down his shirt to show a scar on his chest that he says is the result of an attack by the ruling party’s youth wing.

The 26-year-old farmer said he was among the about 50 supporters of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development who were attacked by 150 “Imbonerakure” armed with clubs and stones as they were playing sports.

“They jumped on us,” Bikorimana recalled of the attack in Gihanga, a town in the hills southeast of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, in October last year.

Police arrested two of the Imbonerakure — the local name for the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party — but did not charge them, he said.

However, six opposition activists were imprisoned after the incident, he added.

Burundi’s opposition and rights groups say political violence has been increasing as the small Central African country, which emerged from 13 years of civil war in 2006, gears up for presidential elections next year.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to campaign for a third term in office and navigate past a two-term limit enshrined in the constitution.

Vital Nshimirimana, coordinator of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society which groups about 200 non-governmental organizations, said the Imbonerakure has emerged “as a third arm of the security forces alongside the army and the national police” — a claim the government fiercely denies.

Curfews have been imposed and opposition activists targeted with fines, arrests and sometimes fatal beatings to stop campaigning.

In March, authorities in Bujumbura banned jogging in groups of two of more on the grounds that opposition parties were using them as an excuse to organize “uprisings.”

Burundi’s last elections in 2010 were boycotted by most opposition parties, with the exception of Nkurunziza’s ruling Hutu majority CNDD-FDD party and the main Tutsi party, Uprona.

Uprona pulled out of the governing coalition earlier this year, plunging the country into a political crisis and raising fears of renewed ethnic tensions.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic last month voiced “great concern” over the situation, saying that attacks by the youth group had more than doubled in the past year.

One UN official said there are an estimated 20,000 Imbonerakure members who are “active in matters of security” and could be used to target opposition supporters in the run-up to next year’s polls.

The government has denied the allegations and Imbonerakure leader Denis Karera insists that the opposition are merely trying to “demonize” the group.

“A Imbonerakure member can of course commit a mistake, but do not generalize,” Karera said.

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