Burundi: Pope Francis prays for peace, colonel injured in shooting

Pope Francis with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at the UN, New York this September.

Pope Francis with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at the UN, New York this September.

A day after Pope Francis prayed for the return of peace and calm to Burundi, a top army official has been ambushed and shot near Bujumbura by unidentified gunmen.

“Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us,” Pope Francis said during a gathering of f priests, divinity students and nuns in Kampala, Uganda Saturday.

The 78 year-old leader of the Catholic Church further said “I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace.”

Hours after the Pope’s prayer, reports emerged Sunday that Colonel Serges Kabanyura, a regional army commander had on Saturday night survived an ambush by unknown gunmen who shot him and his escorts as he drove back to the capital Bujumbura.

“About five persons armed with rifles and dressed in military uniforms stopped us while heading to Bujumbura city. When they saw that we were soldiers they shot at us injuring five of us and, as we shot back, they fled,” one of the injured escorts told Reuters.

The Colonel’s attempted assignation is the latest in a string of high profile targeted killings and assassination attempts. A number of top army officials and politicians have been assassinated and some have survived the attacks.

Just two days ago, Agathon Rwasa, the chief opposition leader, and Deputy Speaker in Burundi told the media in South Africa his life is in perpetual danger.

“My safety and the safety of many Burundians is not guaranteed,” Rwasa was quoted as saying adding “I personally am targeted from everywhere. I don’t know who can hit me first and I’m sure that the one who succeeds in doing so will try to blame it on someone else.”

Grenade explosions, heavy gunfire and deaths are now routine in Bujumbura particularly in the opposition strongholds. Negotiations to end the conflict that has shaken the East African nation since April have stalled and experts are warning the country is sliding into a catastrophic civil war.

The opposition in Burundi has called for the deployment of UN or/and African Union peacekeepers to help halt the killings but neither UN nor AU has decided on to intervene militarily.

The US and EU have sanctioned about 7 Burundi government officials and exiled masterminds of the May 13 failed coup, as the authorities in Bujumbura continue to dismiss the sanctions against current government officials as “scandalous” and “misguided.”