The Central African nation of Burundi is at crisis point following a series of escalating clashes. On Friday, December 10th, the country suffered its worst day of violence yet: close to 100 people were killed in the capital Bujumbura following clashes between security forces and a pro-opposition militia. According to claims by the government, the tens of bodies found on the streets of Bujumbura the next morning belonged to 79 rebels who were killed following an attack on three military installations. "They were shot down by security forces. The people found in the streets are attackers who have been killed by the security,” said government spokesman Karerwa Ndenzako in a statement to the media.
These claims have been challenged by others on the ground in the city, who said that many of those found dead were killed execution-style, with bound wrists. According to reports from civilians, following a real rebel attack which killed around 7 soldiers/police, government security forces went on a rampage through a neighbourhood called Nyakabiga which is seen as a bastion of opposition support. There they conducted door-to-door searches and dragged away young men who they suspected of working with the opposition, many of whom later turned up dead.
The latest flare up in violence in the country has been the worst since July when the country’s president Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in office, in a move seen as unconstitutional by the opposition and the international community. This set off a wave of protests and a failed coup attempt against the government. In the following months there has been sporadic street violence which appears to be worsening. Already more than 300 people have been killed and over 200,000 have fled the country.
The fear is that the situation could continue to deteriorate, especially given the country’s history of civil war between ethnic Tutsi and Hutu groups. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that work must be done to defuse the situation or else the country could "devolve into mass violence”. Confidence that the situation can be defused however is not supported by the US State Department which asked all US nationals in the country to leave immediately.
At this stage it is likely that only intense diplomatic pressure or an international peacekeeping intervention can prevent further bloodshed and a continuing downward spiral for the country.