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UN says more than 50,000 have fled strife-hit Burundi


map_of_burundiOver 50,000 Burundians have fled their country since the start of political violence in April, the UN refugee agency said Friday, adding that many more were trying to leave but faced hurdles.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said more than 25,000 had crossed into Rwanda, another 7,700 into Tanzania in a week, and 8,000 people had gone to the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“In all these cases women and children, including a large number of unaccompanied children, are in the majority,” he said.

A third term bid by Burundi’s president has sparked violent demonstrations claiming at least 18 lives and sparking global concern that the central African nation — which endured a brutal 13-year civil war — could lapse into conflict again.

Opposition parties and civil society groups say president Pierre Nkurunziza’s third-term bid in elections due in June violates both the constitution, which limits a president to two terms in office, and the accords that in 2006 ended the civil war between Tutsis and Hutus.

Edwards said there were reports of daily violence in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura with unrest spreading to the provinces.

“In Rwanda, new arrivals have reported fleeing Burundi because of harassment and intimidation by Imbonerakure youth militants, who paint red marks on homes of people to be targeted,” he said, referring to the ruling party’s militia.

“Some decided to leave as a precautionary measure, having experienced previous cycles of violence.

“There are also reports of people selling their properties before leaving the country — possibly indicating anticipation of prolonged insecurity,” he said.

Edwards also appealed to Burundian authorities to allow people to move freely, saying although the borders were open, those trying to cross over faced many hurdles.

“Many people have experienced difficulties while trying to leave Burundi,” he said.

“Several women have reported threats of rape from armed men, and having to bribe their way through roadblocks. Some have walked for hours through the bush with their children.”

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