NAIROBI (Reuters) – Security forces in Burundi have killed at least 14 armed men who had intended to launch an attack in the northwestern province of Bubanza, police and residents said.
The men, from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, entered the province at dawn on Tuesday and were killed in the district of Musigati, police deputy spokesman Moise Nkurunziza said on state broadcaster RTNB.
The group had the “intention of repeating the carnage of Ruhagarika”, he said, referring to an attack last year that killed at least 26 people days before a constitutional referendum that cleared the way for President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power until 2034.
Last month, the United Nations warned that Burundi was at risk of a new wave of atrocities as it approaches next year’s election with an unresolved political crisis and a president increasingly portrayed as a “divine” ruler, prompting the government to respond that its report did not reflect reality.
Three residents of the town of Kayange told Reuters they heard sounds of gunfire outside the town early on Tuesday and had fled into the nearby forest to hide.
The group killed by security forces were part of a larger group that entered the country from Congo, an army officer told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He gave no further details.
Four journalists from domestic news website Iwacu and their driver, who had travelled to report on the violence, were arrested, the website editor wrote on his Twitter feed.
The motives behind Tuesday’s planned attack were not immediately clear.
After the 2018 attack in a neighbouring province, residents told Reuters it was likely it had been intended to warn off anyone from backing constitutional changes in the referendum.
When the president stood for a third time in 2015, opponents said it violated a two-term constitutional limit.
His supporters beat, tortured and executed activists, suspected opponents and journalists, according to rights groups and the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the tiny central African nation.
Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez