Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Burundi Debacle

Burundi is facing its worst turmoil since the 12-year civil war ended in 2005. Over 100,000 have left Burundi in recent weeks, escaping violence sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term. The biggest concern now is that the decade of peace Burundi has enjoyed could unravel, prompting fresh waves of refugees and spreading conflict to neighbouring countries. “The stakes for Burundi but also for the wider region are high,” Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director of Amnesty International, told the seminar.

Cholera has infected about 3,000 people in Tanzania, the UN has said, where many Burundians have fled seeking refuge from their country's unrest. Up to 400 new cases are being seen each day, the UN's refugee agency said. The epidemic has killed 31 people - two locals and 29 Burundian refugees, the UN's statement said.
A UN spokesman called the cholera outbreak a "new, worrying, and growing additional complication".

The UN described the cramped, dirty conditions in Tanzania's lakeside Kagunga area, where many of the migrants are staying, as "dire". It is trying to evacuate refugees from the region but warns the situation may get worse before it gets better. 20,000 are waiting on the Tanzanian island of Kagunga for transport across Lake Tanganyika to a camp at Nyarangusu. Conditions on the island are deplorable, “with village leaders expressing concerns regarding increasing tension and potential friction between the local population and asylum-seekers, according to UNHCR. The majority of those fleeing Burundi are women and children, including a large number of unaccompanied children, spokesman Adrian Edwards said. The refugee agency predicts that the number of people fleeing Burundi could double in the next six months. UNHCR is now contemplating a worst-case scenario that could see 300,000 flee. Tanzania has played host to vast numbers of refugees for decades and recently granted many citizenship. But recent years have seen its welcoming stance wane. In 2012, it ended the refugee status of almost 40,000 Burundians – on the grounds that their country was peaceful – and obliged them to return.

Rwanda’s president has asserted that fighters from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have crossed into Burundi “and might get involved directly” in the unrest there. Remarks by Kagame critical of his Burundian counterpart’s handling of the situation have been interpreted as a veiled threat to send troops across the border.
“The last thing we want to see is for the Burundi crisis to develop to the point where the Rwandan government feels it has the need or the legitimacy to intervene,” said Jolanda Bouka, an analyst at Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Writing in Kenya’s Nation newspaper, Nic Cheeseman, a specialist in sub-Saharan African politics at Oxford University, warned that “the memory of civil war and how to mount effective rebellions against the state is still fresh. This combination is a recipe for political disorder and, worse, a resumption of civil conflict."

The New York-based think tank Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect said the situation in Burundi remained very volatile and spoke of “catastrophic consequences” if the power vacuum wasn’t resolved soon.
“Paramount among these is the risk that any further escalation or militarisation of the current crisis could result in the commission of mass atrocity crimes against vulnerable civilians. Immediate steps must therefore be taken by all sides to de-escalate tensions, stabilise the country and protect the gains of more than a decade of peacebuilding,” it said.

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