In the letter dated May 18 and received by JusticeInfo.Net on Thursday, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and Domitien Ndayizeye do not mince their words. These two Hutu former heads of state, who are now Senators, accuse the Imbonerakure, the youth of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD party, of sowing terror in the capital Bujumbura, on roads across the country and at its borders.
Nkurunziza’s régime has since the end of last month been facing a huge wave of protest by the opposition and civil society demanding he withdraw from presidential elections scheduled for June 26. Opponents and human rights activists accuse him of violating Burundi’s 2005 Constitution and the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords which limit the number of presidential mandates of an individual to two. But supporters of Nkurunziza, who has headed this poor country for the last 10 years, say his first mandate doesn’t count because he was elected by Parliament and not by the people.
Using the police, who have not hesitated to fire real bullets to disperse the protesters, former-rebel Nkurunziza is trying to regain control of the situation following an attempted coup last week.
“Using the pretext of suppressing the putsch, loyalist forces supported by the Imbonerakure militia have torched private radios which had already been targeted by the government for several weeks,” say the signatories in their appeal to regional heads of state, the African Union, European Union and United States.
Whereas the government initially condemned these attacks against private radios, Nkurunziza on Wednesday issued a “warning” to any national and international media “who try to spread information of a nature to sow hatred and division amongst Burundians and discredit Burundi or encourage insurrection especially during this electoral period”.
According to the letter, the Imbonerakure are now helping to man checks on borders and main roads where people suspected of opposing Nkurunziza’s third term bid are arrested on the basis of previously established lists of names.
“This militia is organized and operates under the command of former administrator of the intelligence service (SNR) Adolphe Nshimirimana”, who is implicated, according to the signatories, in various human rights abuses. “In complicity with elements of the SNR, this militia is carrying out abusive interrogations and arbitrary arrests”, say the signatories, who also include former parliamentary presidents Jean Minani and Léonce Ngendakumana.
According to this “urgent appeal”, the militia’s headquarters is the bar and restaurant of Lieutenant Colonel Adolphe Nshimirimana, situated on the primary main road (Route Nationale 1) in Rumonge commune on the edge of Bujumbura. There, the Imbonerakure are “supervised by certain high ranking officers of the police and army”, according to the letter’s authors, who say this bar-restaurant has become “a place where people abducted from residential areas and forced from private and public transport vehicles are subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
The letter says the torturers are doing everything to cover up their acts. “When torture is being inflicted, the perpetrators of these terrible deeds make sure the cries of pain of their victims are muffled to the last by loud music blasting from powerful speakers. Their human remains are taken away in vehicles in the night to an unknown destination, according to concurring sources.”
The signatories accuse Nkurunziza’s régime of deliberately arming and maintaining the Imbonerakure militia. They call on the international community to “urgently deploy an intervention force to Burundi to first ensure the security of people and property”.
Some observers note that Burundi’s former Tutsi presidents Jean-Baptiste Bagaza and Pierre Buyoya have not signed the letter.
This is not the first time the youth of the CND-FDD have been accused of terrorizing opponents. The government, questioned about it notably by the United Nations, has always said such accusations are unfounded.