Chimpreports broke the news on Wednesday by publishing details of a confidential cable from a UN representative in Bujumbura, warning his bosses at New York that the country could swiftly slide into genocide.
This website has since established that for the last few days, several western and regional leaders have been urging Nkurunziza to explain “the disturbing reports of arming militias” and reassure the world he would do more to stop a possible breakout of violence in Burundi.
On April 8, Mark Simmonds, the British Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in charge of Africa, met Nkurunziza in Bujumbura.
Diplomats say Simmonds warned Nkurunziza that radicalising and arming militia groups would plunge Burundi into chaos and create a fertile ground for genocide.
According to a leaked UN cable to the U. S Envoy to United Nations, Samantha Power, in January and February this year, “there was distribution of weapons and military outfits to the youth affiliated to CNDD-FDD (Imbonerakure) party and the demobilised ex-AIMP Rumonge.”
The UN official in Bujumbura further said in a “confidential” memo dated April 3, 2014 that “a meeting was held in a hotel known as Kukanyamuneza belonging to a ‘Brigadier General’ in Nduwumunsi in Rumonge” to draw a plan on doling out the weapons.
He also observed that a night training for the handling of these weapons was held near the Central Prison of Rumonge (Kumurembwe) and that the surrounding population heard the gunfire.
In what appeared as a call for immediate intervention, the UN official said “one can only speculate about the purpose of the distribution of weapons and uniforms in Bururi which is a traditional stronghold of the UPRONA.”
UN was further informed that radio messages have been passed around for the population “to be ready.”
The Deputy Spokesperson of Burundi Presidency, Willy Nyamitwe, confirmed Nkurunziza and Simmonds discussed reports of “the distribution of firearms to youth affiliated with the CNDD-FDD.”
Nyamwite emphasised Simmonds “was carrying the message to President Nkurunziza sent him by His counterpart in the Kingdom of Great Britain.”
Nkurunziza denied the charges, telling Simmonds that Burundi is carrying out the disarmament not rearmament of the civilian population.
“There is evidence Burundians are tired of war,” said Nkurunziza.
Flames of genocide
The shocking developments came just a few days after Rwanda commemorated 20 years after genocide in which one million people mainly Tutsi were butchered by the Interahamwe, a ruthless militia trained and armed by the genocidal regime of Juvenal Habyarimana.
There are fears history could be repeating itself since the Interahamwe were also mobilised through radio messages, urging killing of the Tutsi “cockroaches.”
The Interahamwe formed RTLM, the genocidal radio station which was used to broadcast where the Tutsis were fleeing.
Burundi’s political crisis started early this year with UPRONA pulling out of the coalition government following attempts to manipulate Parliament to amend the Constitution with the view of securing to seek a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Interestingly, after Parliament refused to scrap the constitutional two-term presidential limit, the Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said Nkurunziza would still stand for a third term in 2015.
“It is the intention of some political actors to believe that Parliament resolved the question of the third term, please be informed that that is not true. it should be known that Nkurunziza will stand for President and that “this matter will be decided by the Constitutional Court,” Nduwimana was recently quoted as briefing participants at an International conference in Bujumbura.
International leaders have since urged Nkurunziza not to dare push the country to the edge by seeking a third term.
According to Article 96 of the Constitution based on Arusha Accords that set the guidelines of electing leaders in Burundi following decades of brutal civil wars, it was decided that the President “shall be elected for a term of five years, renewable only once. No one may serve more than two presidential terms.”
On Monday, Samantha Power, who also visited Rwanda and war-torn Central African Republic, said United States is seeing “worrying signs of political exclusion and oppression” in Burundi and that she “can’t help but have Rwanda on my mind.”
She further said that “in the past several months Burundi’s post-civil war progress has begun to unravel as government moves to strip political freedoms and stifle dissent. In the world today, we’re seeing far too many victims of ethnic and religiously motivated violence and hate.”
Power pointed out that “efforts to undermine the Arusha consensus on power-sharing and political inclusion will put a hard-won peace at risk.”
At least 250,000 people died in Burundi’s 16-year civil war that ended in 2009 as the Tutsi-dominated army fought the battle-hardened Hutu rebels.
While Samantha did not mention particulars in the UN communication, she was Tuesday quoted by Time Magazine as saying “The Burundian president has taken a set of moves internally that we’re very worried about. We’re very concerned that some of the political steps that he’s taking really jeopardize much of what Burundi has built since it endured its own spate of mass killings 20 years ago, then again more recently.”
In Burundi, Power said the Rwanda genocide began twenty years ago this week “is a reminder to us all of the horrific violence that can result from ethnic antagonism and a reminder of the need for constant vigilance to ensure that leaders act in time to prevent the kind of political unraveling that could lead to conflict and to mass atrocities.
According to the UN cable, “the Imbonerakure actions have been on the rise since the beginning of the year and are one of the major threats to peace in Burundi and to the credibility of the 2015 elections as they are responsible for most politically motivated violence against opposition.”
27 cases implicating the militia so far in 2014 have been documented with 32 being politically motivated.