BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead two policemen at a checkpoint near Burundi’s capital late on Wednesday and one attacker was killed in an exchange of fire, police said, the latest in a series of incidents stoking fears of a new insurgency.
Burundi, a small coffee-growing central African country, has enjoyed relative peace since the Hutu rebel group, Forces for National Liberation (FNL), laid down its weapons and joined the government in 2009 after almost two decades of war.
The attack took place in the western district of Gihanga, about 20 km (13 miles) outside the capital Bujumbura, not far from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Armed men with the intention of looting houses opened fire on a police checkpoint, killing two of the security officers,” said police spokesman Elie Bizindavyi. “In the exchange of fire, one of the attackers was also killed.”
Bizindavyi said police suspected the attackers had come across the border from Congo.
Attacks on civilians and soldiers have intensified since elections in 2010 were widely boycotted by the opposition.
The authorities routinely blame bandits for the increasingly frequent attacks. Analysts say fighting between the security forces and former militia fighters risks blowing up into a full insurgency.
In November, soldiers killed 18 gunmen in fierce clashes in the east of Burundi, while armed men killed Italian and Croatian aid workers in the north.
In the worst attack last year, 36 people in a bar on the outskirts of Bujumbura were shot dead by a number of armed men in September. Sixteen people were jailed in January with terms ranging from three years to life for the attack.
United Nations reports have said that former FNL fighters formed new bases in eastern Congo because they were not happy with their integration in Burundi’s army and police forces after the end of the civil war.
Calls have been growing for President Pierre Nkurunziza, himself a former rebel leader, to start talks with opposition leaders in exile to prevent a slide into a new civil conflict.
He has rejected any negotiation with opposition parties.