KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda’s foreign minister said on Tuesday she was concerned about neighbouring Burundi’s clampdown on more than a week of protests against its president’s decision to seek a third term in office.
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would stand in a June 26 vote has plunged Burundi into its worst political crisis since its ethnically fuelled civil war that pitted majority Hutus against minority Tutsis from 1993 to 2005.
At least 24,000 mostly Tutsis have fled to Rwanda fearing another outbreak of ethnic strife, say officials. The unrest has particularly worried Rwanda, still scarred by its 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
“While we respect Burundi’s sovereignty in addressing internal matters, Rwanda considers the safety of innocent population as a regional and international responsibility,” Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, said.
“We appeal to leaders of Burundi to do everything in their power to bring the country back to a peaceful situation,” she added in a statement.
Civil society groups say least 12 people have been killed during Burundi’s protests, while police put the number at six, including three members of the security forces.
Small groups of protesters were back on the streets of Bujumbura on Tuesday, keeping their distance from the police. Tyres smouldered and rocks were strewn over the roads from previous clashes. Police have fired tear gas, water cannon and, say demonstrators, live rounds, a charge the police denies.
Nkurunziza’s opponents accuse him of breaking a two-term limits set out in the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended the civil war. His supporters say his first term doesn’t count as he was chosen by parliament, not by a popular vote.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the region for talks, told a news conference in Nairobi on Monday the decision to seek a third term “flies directly in the face” of Burundi’s constitution.
Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, has called the protests an “insurrectional movement” and warned of tough steps against those behind the demonstrations.