NAIROBI, Apr 20: A senior US official accused Burundi’s government of being behind the central African country’s prolonged political crisis, saying that the administration was doing everything possible to stop Washington helping civilians.
Burundi has been in turmoil since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, which he went on to win in July, with violence leaving hundreds dead.
“The government of Burundi is the driver, not the victim of this current crisis, whether it’s on the political side or the economic side,” Thomas Perriello, US special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, told a press conference in the capital Bujumbura yesterday.
“The government is doing everything it can to make it impossible for us and other partners to continue to support the Burundian people and the Burundian economy.”
The opposition, as well as civil groups and some of Nkurunziza’s own supporters, accuse him of violating the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war — a conflict that claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.
Violence over the past year has left more than 400 people dead and forced more than 250,000 people to flee Burundi, and watchdogs have repeatedly sounded the alarm.
On Monday, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said his team had recorded at least 345 cases of torture and ill-treatment in Burundi since January and nearly 600 over the past year, and warned that the actual numbers were probably higher.
“These shocking figures are a clear indicator of the widespread and growing use of torture and ill-treatment by government security forces,” Zeid said.
Perriello said there had been “concrete pledges from the president himself, just a few weeks ago, about the release of political prisoners — we have not seen that.
“We saw a pledge from the president himself about 200 African Union monitors, and there continues to be games played,” he added.
The US envoy said there was “systematic documentation” of torture and extrajudicial killings “at a time where the government says they are committed to making sure that Burundians feel safe for returning to their country”.
“This is the kind of double speak that doesn’t build confidence in the government or the path forward,” he added.
“A lot of the cards are in the hands of the government, whether or not they are interested in trying to solve the economic and political crisis by delivering on the pledges that they’ve made on the highest level.”
Perriello was in Burundi after a tour that took him to France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (AGENCIES)