At least nine people were killed in an overnight attack at a bar in the latest violence in Burundi's capital, witnesses said Sunday, as security forces went door-to-door to disarm civilians in neighborhoods seen as opposition strongholds.
Residents found seven bloodied bodies lying on the floor after gunshots were heard Saturday night at a bar in the Kanyosha area, in southern Bujumbura. Two others who fled the scene later died in a hospital, witnesses said.
The bar's owner, his nephew and one of his employees were among the victims, Venant Rwakiranya, who lives near the bar and saw the bodies, said Sunday.
The gunmen ordered everyone seated on the bar's terrace to move inside before they started shooting indiscriminately, another witness told The Associated Press. The witness said he was grilling meats for customers when the attack started. The witness, who was injured and is now hospitalized, spoke on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
The bar's owner, believing the attackers to be robbers, asked his customers to hand over all cash and valuables, which they did, but then one of the gunmen opened fire, he said. Other gunmen, standing guard outside the bar, shot those who tried to flee, injuring or killing them, the witness said.
International concern is growing over the security situation in this central African nation, which been hit by unrest following the president's decision to extend his time in power.
On Sunday the security forces were combing the Mutakura neighborhood, searching homes for unlicensed weapons. Civilians are not allowed to enter or leave the neighborhood while the operation is underway.
A government-issued deadline to turn in illegal weapons or face extraordinary police action expired midnight Saturday and President Pierre Nkurunziza has urged the security forces to use all means necessary.
Many residents blame the police and security forces for the killings.
In the last two days some neighborhoods in Bujumbura emptied out as panicked residents fled to areas seen as less dangerous, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.
At least 198 people have been killed in Burundi since late April, when Nkurunziza announced his bid that was ultimately successful for a third term in office, according to U.N. officials. The actual death toll is likely higher, as many of the killings go unreported.
The U.S. is "particularly concerned" that the recent "inflammatory rhetoric" of some government officials and Nkurunziza's planned security crackdown this weekend "are increasing the risk of an outbreak of mass violence in Burundi," said U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby in a statement Saturday.
Although the current violence appears to be political, Burundi has a history of deadly conflicts between the country's Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Nkurunziza took power in 2005 near the end of a civil war in which some 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2006.