Political turmoil continues in Burundi, with top government officials being dismissed following a short-lived effort by some military officers to take over the government.
On May 17, five days after the takeover attempt, President Pierre Nkurunzizi issued a decree relieving the foreign, defense and commerce ministers of their duties. Even as the president made his first public appearance in Bujumbura to show he was back in command, street protests continued in there over his plans to run for a third term. Opponents say that violates the constitution and the Arusha Agreement that was key to ending a deadly 13-year civil war.
Announcement of President Nkurunziza’s candidacy triggered street protests, which police tried to repress with water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition. Estimates are that up to 20 people have been killed, hundreds injured and hundreds detained over almost four weeks of demonstrations.
Meanwhile, intimidation and violence by the ruling party’s youth militia ahead of the planned May 26 legislative and June 26 presidential elections have caused tens of thousands of Burundians to flee to neighboring nations.
The United States is deeply concerned by the potential for further bloodshed, including reports of retaliatory violence following the attempted seizure of power. We urge all parties to seek reconciliation and unity over revenge and retribution during this extremely tense period. We have acted to restrict travel for Burundian individuals who reportedly have committed human rights abuses, and we’ll consider additional measures against anyone who plans, participates in or orders widespread or systematic discriminatory violence against the civilian population.
The United States supports NO effort by the military to take power by unlawful means. We continue to believe that adhering to the compromises contained in the Arusha Agreement, including its presidential term limits provision, is key to returning stability and unity to Burundi. Thus, we hope that President Nkurunziza will weigh the best interest of his country and his legacy as he considers whether to continue his controversial bid for a third term. His candidacy will undermine Burundi’s economic and democratic progress. Some international donors have already cut or suspended financial aid.
The United States welcomes the mediation efforts by the United Nations and African Union, and urges all Burundian stakeholders to participate constructively to find a peaceful, democratic resolution to the current crisis. We particularly welcome the announcement by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region of the visit of the Presidents of South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to Bujumbura in the coming days to meet with all parties.
Burundi has come far since the end of the last civil war that caused so many deaths and human suffering. The United States reiterates its strong support for the people of Burundi at this very difficult time.