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Tension grips Burundi after deadly attack and as referendum approaches – Zeid (15.05.2018)

Ten women and 11 children were among the victims of the attack by unidentified armed men on the village of Ruhamagara, in Cibitoke Province.

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 15, 2018 – Highlighting the rising tension following a recent deadly attack on a village in Burundi that left 26 civilians dead, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein on Tuesday expressed concern about a possible upsurge in violence during the run-up to Thursday’s controversial constitutional referendum.

Ten women and 11 children were among the victims of the attack by unidentified armed men on the village of Ruhamagara, in Cibitoke Province, some 60 kilometres north-west of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura at around 22:00 hours last Friday.

“There are very differing accounts of whom the attackers may have been, and what the motive was,” said Zeid. “It may have been political – designed to impact on the referendum – or it may have been carried out for other reasons, including revenge. Local residents have reported the men wore military uniforms, but this does not necessarily indicate who they were. Either way, in this febrile atmosphere, it is a very dangerous development. Burundi is awash with rumours, political negotiations are deadlocked, and tensions are rising sharply in the wake of this attack, with many dreading what may happen during and after Thursday’s referendum.”

Zeid took note of the authorities’ announcement that they are launching an investigation and urged them to ensure it is transparent and effective. He also expressed his condolences to the families of the victims of Friday’s attack on Ruhamagara.

“Because of the constant stream of violations over the past three years, and this extremely controversial and divisive referendum, the actions of the authorities are viewed with considerable mistrust by a sizeable segment of the population,” Zeid said. He noted that a significant number of opposition politicians and others calling for a ‘No’ vote have been targeted for arbitrary arrests and detention by security forces, sometimes with the assistance of the notorious Imbonerakure group which supports the Government.

“Everyone will suffer if Burundi explodes into violence during or after the referendum,” the UN Human rights Chief said. “I urge the Government to live up to its responsibilities to provide the people of Burundi with peace, security and a fully functioning democracy where everyone’s human rights are respected, and the rule of law is applied equally to all. It has very little time to turn this around. While the opposition has much to oppose, it must also avoid any actions that could add fuel to the fire.”

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