Burundi government sponsors mass protests against Rwanda

The protests are part of an escalation in tension with Burundi's neighbors since a disputed election put its leader in power for a third term.

Jean Pierre Harerimana/Reuters
Government-sponsored protesters march in Burundi against the neighboring Rwandan government.

Thousands of Burundians on Saturday participated in government-sanctioned demonstrations against neighboring Rwanda whom it accuses of supporting a rebellion to topple Burundi's president.

The demonstrations highlight the souring of relations between the Central African neighbors since Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza was re-elected for a disputed third term.

Burundi was rocked by violent street protests for months after Nkurunziza's April announcement that he would seek another term. At least 400 people have died since then in violent street protests, assassinations, attacks by a rebel group and a failed coup attempt. More than 200,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries, mostly to Rwanda. Burundi is accusing Rwanda of training and arming rebels in the refugee population.

Rwanda on Friday said it plans to relocate 75,000 Burundian refugees to other countries following the accusations.

Burundi's Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye, in a radio broadcast urging people to participate in the demonstrations, accused the Rwandan government of trying to topple Burundi's government through military means.

Demonstrators camped at Rwanda's embassy in Bujumbura Saturday morning, singing songs against Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

The songs described Kagame as an enemy whom Burundians are going to "kumesa." The Kirundi word kumesa means wash. During Burundi's civil war a decade ago, "to wash someone up" was a euphemism for killing people perceived to be enemies.

A U.N. panel of experts has made similar allegations against Rwanda, saying in a new report that refugees from Burundi received training from Rwandan military personnel last year with the goal of removing Nkurunziza from power. The experts spoke to 18 Burundian combatants who said they had been recruited at the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015 and that their numbers total four companies of 100 recruits each.

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