Burundi: prominent rights activist’s son killed, panic forces people out of their homes

DECEASED: Willy Nzitonda

DECEASED: Willy Nzitonda

Willy Nzitonda the son of the rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa has been killed in violence that broke up in the capital Bujumbura this Friday.

According to witnesses, Nzitonda was arrested by police around 11:00 am local time in Mutakura, an opposition stronghold, as he was trying to fetch his belongings from his former residence but his body was later discovered in an empty house in the area.

He survived an assassination attempt a few weeks ago and he had been living in hiding. Nzitonda’s death follows his that of his brother-law recently, and his father’s assassination attempt in August. Mbonimpa is still recovering from the attack in Belgium.

The police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye revealed to the media the police had killed four criminals during a police patrol in Mutakura but said Willy Nzitonda was not among them.

The police spokesman also disclosed they had apprehended three suspects in the deadly violence including two Rwandans. He stated they also seized four hand grenades and 20 bullets.

This escalating violence coincides with the expiration of President Pierre Nkurunziza 5-day deadline for the public to report illegal and unregistered weapons to the authorities.

President Nkurunziza recently warned the Burundian public to hand over weapon during the 5-day window or risk the wrath of the law.

The president warned beginning Saturday, November 7, the police and military will use force to retrieve weapons especially in opposition strongholds of Mutakura and Cibitoke in Bujumbura.
Residents these areas are have started fleeing their homes fearing the looming operation by the security forces.
From Thursday through Friday, Afrika Reporter saw significant numbers of people carrying their belongings desperately trying to escape the violence.

“We are fleeing because of violence raging in our neighborhood and the repression that is expected to be conducted by police after the expiration of the President’s ultimatum on this November 7,” said Honoré Nibimpa, a resident of Cibitoke who said he was heading to the southern area of Kanyosha.

“The messages given by our top leaders are not reassuring. When they tell us that they will erase us, how can we remain there?,” said another resident leaving Mutakura heading to the neighboring Ngagara.

Residents of Mutakura fleeing their homes ahead of the expiration of President Nkurunziza's deadline

Residents of Mutakura fleeing their homes ahead of the expiration of President Nkurunziza’s deadline

Following president address earlier this week, several top leaders, including the 1st Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo, Security, Defense, Home Affairs and Justice Ministers, have been touring the grassroots especially opposition strongholds relaying President Nkurunziza’s appeal to citizens surrender weapons. It’s these sensitization and talk of an imminent operation that have prompted residents to leave their homes.
International community alarmed by “ominous” rhetoric

The Burundian government messages to the public to report their weapons have been interpreted by the international community as “incendiary and ominous” rhetoric.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), African Union (AU), the United States and the United Nations (UN) have roundly condemned speeches by Burundian leaders and some have likened them to the politicians’ rhetoric that incited people before and during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

In her press release, issued Wednesday, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reiterated thAU’s concern about the current situation prevailing in the country.

She condemned the “continuation of acts of violence and the increase of statements that are likely to further aggravate the current situation and create conditions for more instability, with devastating consequences for Burundi and the whole region.”

Ms Zuma also denounced “all acts of violence and violations of human rights, as well as of all statements that can inflame the situation”.

Her condemnation was also echoed by the US government and the UN.

Speaking to Radio France international (RFI), Tom Perriello, the US Special Envoy to the Great lakes Region, said he was worried about President Nkurunziza’s Five-day ultimatum and the “incendiary” remarks made by the president of the Burundian Senate Révérien Ndikuriyo addressing local leaders in the opposition neighborhoods earlier this week.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also condemned the “inflammatory rhetoric.”
Also the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the Burundian politicians’ statements are “chillingly similar” to the statements issued before and during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.