Burundi held a funeral for victims of the Cibitoke attack, after an armed group killed 26 people in the country’s northwestern province on Friday. The attack came just days before a constitutional referendum that should allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power up to 2034.
Pascal Barandagiye, Burundi’s Interior Minister said: “We want to reassure you once again that these attackers will be arrested and punished because this is an inhumane act. We will punish them and their sponsors appropriately.”
“On behalf of the diplomatic corps, I express most sincere condolences to the families of the victims, to the whole community, to the government and in my own capacity as the Russian Federation ambassador. We are always against violence,” Russian ambassador to the country Petr Antipov said.
The country’s security minister says the attack was carried out by a terrorist group which he did not identify, with some sources indicating the group had crossed over from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein on Tuesday expressed concern about a possible upsurge in violence during the run-up to Burundi’s constitutional referendum.
On May 17, Burundi will hold a referendum to vote on constitutional changes that could allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to rule for another 14 years. Rights groups have accused the government of running a campaign of fear ahead of the controversial vote.
An Associated Press report says that one ruling party official urged supporters “to castrate the enemy.” Another called for drowning the regime’s opponents in a lake, as tension grows and hate speech flies ahead of the referendum.
Burundi’s government strongly denies allegations it targets its own people, saying the charges are malicious propaganda spread by exiles. Last week it suspended BBC broadcasts in the country for six months, accusing it of spreading ideas that discredit the president. Voice of America broadcasts also were suspended, AP further reports.
International Criminal Court judges last year authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes in Burundi, a country that the U.N. human rights chief has called one of “the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times.”
Concerns have risen in recent days. Last week Burundi’s government arrested a party official who told a crowd he wanted the referendum’s opponents thrown into Lake Tanganyika. Melchiade Nzopfabarushe, who once worked as a counselor in Nkurunziza’s office, was swiftly convicted on charges of threatening state security and sent to prison for three years.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, rose to power in 2005 following the signing of the Arusha accords that ended Burundi’s civil war that killed about 300,000 people, according to AP. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote.
He said he was eligible for a third term in 2015 because lawmakers, not the general population, had chosen him for his first term. Critics called his pursuit of a third term unconstitutional.