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Former Burundi president warns of ‘risk of genocide’


map_of_burundiBurundi’s former president Pierre Buyoya on Friday warned of the “risk of genocide” in the central African country, where hundreds have been killed in violence recalling two previous regional conflicts.

Addressing fears that the unrest could spiral into the kind of mass killings seen in Rwanda in 1994 Buyoya told Radio France Internationale: “Of course there’s a risk of genocide.”

“I wonder in fact if there aren’t already elements of genocide when you see the level of violence today,” said Buyoya, who led the country from 1987 to 1993, the year Burundi itself descended into a 13-year ethnically-charged civil war, and again from 1996 to 2003.

An estimated 300,000 people were killed in the 1993-2006 war between rebels from the Hutu majority and an army dominated by the Tutsi minority.

The latest crisis, which began in April with street protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office — which he won in disputed July polls — and has since escalated into armed conflict has raised fears of a repeat of that conflict.

The violence escalated dramatically last week with the killing of 87 people in clashes in the capital Bujumbura, many of them youths shot dead by the security forces.

Buyoya, 66, said it was “clear” that some politicians were trying to drive a wedge between Hutus and Tutsis with inflammatory remarks that were “sometimes (uttered) in secret that end up by becoming public knowledge.”

The “underground discourse in support of all this violence” undermined efforts to “exorcise” long-running tensions between the two communities, he said.

“We thought we had made progress, but unfortunately it looks as if we’re back to square one,” he said.

Buyoya said he would not oppose the mooted deployment of UN peacekeepers.

“When there is a risk of genocide, when there is a risk of mass killings, you have to protect the population,” he said.

He also called on Nkurunziza to engage in talks with the opposition on a political solution to the crisis.

“President Pierre Nkurunziza must not refuse dialogue,” he said, declaring the situation to have “reached the point where it is impossible to remain quiet”.

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