Apr. 25, 2016 (GIN) – Like a train without brakes, Burundi is skidding towards a collision of ethnic and political factions with an alarming number of fatalities already reported among Hutus and Tutsis.
More than 400 people, including high-ranking army officials, have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza in April bent the rules to give himself a third term in office despite a constitutional limit of two terms. The move was a call to arms, firing up old and bitter rivalries.
The week started with the killing of a Tutsi general and security advisor to Burundi’s vice-president who with his wife and daughter perished under a hail of rockets and grenades.
On Sunday, the Minister for Human Rights, Martin Nivyabandi, survived a grenade attack as he left church. An avid writer on Twitter, he recently wrote: “We strongly condemn terrorist acts by attacking peaceful citizens. Bright future is the fruit of the choice we make in our life – “choose peace”.
Although both opposition and government forces are ethnically mixed, some fear the violence could descend into a repeat of the genocidal killings of the 1970s and 1993.
President Nkurunziza is the former leader of a Hutu rebel group which battled a Tutsi-dominated army for many years until he came to power in 2005 as part of a peace deal.
The African Union which pledged a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force for the country over the government’s objections has since withdrawn the offer. A preliminary probe of the recent outbreak of violence was announced this week by the International Criminal Court and Amnesty International reported evidence of five mass graves near Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
Yet over the drumbeats for war, a peace prize ceremony was taking place in Yerevan, Armenia, where a Burundian survivor of the 1993 genocide was named the first winner of the Aurora prize established by Armenian philanthropists on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Marguerite Barankitse was cited for her work with children from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo of all ethnic backgrounds orphaned by war, poverty or AIDS.
On April 24, Ms. Barankitse received a check for $100,000 for the orphanage she named “Maison Shalom” (House of Peace), now based in Rwanda. Since first taking charge of 25 war orphans in 1993, she said, Maison Shalom has come to the aid of more than 20,000 orphans and other needy children.
Ms. Barankitse previous awards include the Prize for Conflict Prevention, the UNESCO Prize, the the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.