Campaigns for Burundi’s May 17 constitutional amendment referendum came to an end on Monday with the ruling party warning that foreign countries should not meddle in the country’s affairs.
“It is now up to Burundians to decide their future and there should be no interference from outside countries,” said Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye, CNDD-FDD’s secretary-general, at a rally in the capital Bujumbura.
Among the sections of the law to be amended is one on presidential term limits, which was at the centre of the 2015 political crisis after the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza vied for a controversial third term in office.
Opposition leader and deputy speaker of parliament Agathon Rwasa says he doubts the referendum will be free and fair.
“We have been facing a number of challenges during our campaigns but that won’t stop our agenda,” said Mr Rwasa at a rally in Burundi’s second largest city Gitega.
Mr Rwasa is campaigning for a “no” vote.
The Burundi Catholic Church has expressed its concern on the timing of the referendum, saying many citizens live in fear.
The European Union and the United States have also denounced persistent intimidation, repression, violence and harassment of the opposition and their supporters.
Last week, Burundi suspended operations of international networks British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Voice Of America (VOA).
BBC was suspended for broadcasting content that “put national cohesion and reconciliation at stake,” while US-government funded VOA, was banned for partnering with and using online websites of some local media houses that had been shut down in 2015.
More than five million Burundians are expected to vote on May 17 and it remains unclear whether the regional mediated dialogue will resume if at all the Constitution is amended. If amended, parts of the Arusha agreement would be scrapped.
Critics say should the constitution be amended, President Nkurunziza could rule the country until 2034, however those for the amendment say it will make things clearer.
Meanwhile, the government will conduct a mass burial for the 26 people killed in an attack in the northwestern Cibitoke province late on Friday.
An unknown group stormed a village armed with guns and knives, killed dozens of people and burnt some alive among them 14 children.
The government said the attackers were “terrorists” from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Soldiers had been deployed to border areas in recent weeks after the government accused exiled opposition groups of seeking to disrupt the vote.
“We have a strong view that the local authorities should have done better to protect the population,” the chairman of the national independent Human Rights Commission Jean Baptiste Baribonekeza, said.
He said the organisation was scrutinising the attack to find out why it was carried out and lapses in protecting the citizens.