Five killed in Bujumbura violence, mounting fears of a civil war prompting evacuations

President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial third term bid sparked the crisis

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term bid sparked the crisis

At least five people were shot dead and several others injured, including three police officers in the deadly clashes between the police and unknown gunmen in several opposition strongholds in the Burundian Capital Bujumbura, Saturday night.

Grenade explosions and sporadic gunshots were heard in Ngagara, Cibitoke and Mutakura in the North of the capital, and in the central parts of Bwiza, Nyakabiga and Jabe.

Residents of South Bujumbura neighbourhoods Musaga and Kanyosha also reported hearing and seeing a series of grenade attacks and subsequent sporadic gunshots.

Moïse Nkurunziza, police deputy spokesman said the explosions and heavy gunfire were as a result of the police operation hunting down “criminals.”

“Tipped off by responsible citizens, security forces conducted a fierce operation on criminals who were planning to launch terrorist acts by throwing grenades. A ferocious confrontation ensued, causing several human as well as material damages,” Mr. Nkurunziza said in a National Radio address Sunday.

The deputy police spokesman revealed 13 grenades were thrown at the police patrol officers injuring three and two civilians.

He said police has three dozen suspects in custody and have confiscated two rifles and a number of ammunitions together with two hand grenades.

“Security forces have put words into actions by thwarting those criminals to commit their evils, thanks to good collaboration with the population who informed security forces on time,” said Moïse Nkurunziza, calling on the population to redouble vigilance and support to security forces as they combat “terrorist acts.”

The Deputy Police Spokesman also denied there was an attack on the presidency Saturday night saying “up to now the police has no information of a likely shelling last night.” Residents in the presidency’s vicinity had reported gunfire in the area.

Elsewhere in Burundi, grenade explosions and gunfire were reported in the northern province of Kirundo near the Rwandan border. According to local administration, unknown gunmen attacked a nightclub, killing one person and destroying one vehicle.

The deadly violence coincided with nationwide celebrations of the ‘Fighter’s Day by the ruling CNDD-FDD in memory of fallen combatants during the civil war of 1993.

Tension is still high in Bujumbura with mounting fears of a civil war, as the government aims sharp criticism to its former colonial power Belgium, for sowing divisionism and hatred amongst Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, and for orchestrating genocide in 1972.

Burundi’s recent attack of Belgium follows the latter’s advice to nationals to evacuate Burundi as the East African nation increasingly tilts toward a full-scale deadly civil war. The European Union has also advised “non-essential” staff to leave Burundi and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) is considering relocating its offices from Bujumbura to Lusaka, Zambia.

Many have called for UN and the African Union intervention by sending in peacekeeping troops to end the deadly violence.

About 300 people have died in the current crisis in Burundi and an estimated 200,000 has sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).