March 19, 2010 / 2:42 PM / 10 years ago

Burundi elections at risk from violence: ICG

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Intimidation of opposition parties in Burundi and the mobilisation of youth wings across the political spectrum could undermine elections this year in the central African nation, an international think-tank said.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza holds a news conference in Brussels October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Francois Grignon, director of the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Africa programme, said the group had documented acts of harassment and intimidation by police and the ruling party’s youth wing against opposition parties.

“We are not saying that the country is at a risk of war. But it is at risk of an escalation of violence which could lead to the loss of lives during the period of elections,” Grignon told Reuters in an interview this week.

Burundi, a coffee-producing nation of 8 million that borders Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, is emerging from more than a decade of civil war that killed 300,000 people.

The country is enjoying relative peace since the last Hutu guerrilla group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), agreed last year to lay down weapons and join the government.

Many now see the 2010 elections as a way of consolidating peace and Burundi’s recent democratic achievements.

In its latest report on Burundi, ICG also criticised some opposition parties, especially the FNL and the main Hutu opposition party (FRODEBU), saying they were also mobilising their youth to oppose any intimidation.

“The opposition also has a tendency to always play the politics of the worst, instead of trying to find solutions to disputes,” said Grignon.

SPECIAL ENVOY?

Burundi holds district elections on May 21, a presidential election on June 28, a parliamentary poll on July 23 and a vote for senators on July 28. The electoral process will conclude with local elections to be held separately in September.

These will be the second democratic elections since 2005, when former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president after a long U.N.-backed peace process.

Former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa will be the FNL’s presidential candidate. Domitien Ndayizeye, who was president of a transitional government in 2003-2005, will run for FRODEBU.

“We need the confidence of all actors in the process, the confidence in the neutrality of the national police and security forces,” said Grignon.

“We also need confidence that elections will be credible, and indeed that the results will be accepted by all parties.”

He said countries in the region, along with the African Union, should appoint a special envoy to resolve possible political disputes.

“The special envoy must be someone who knows Burundi very well, somebody whom Burundi politicians can trust,” he said. “He would actually contribute to maintaining dialogue between political actors, preventing accusations of election fraud.”

Grignon also suggested the deployment to Burundi of a regional police mission to train the national police.

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