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Africa

Burundi pro-government youth linked to violence

African Union leaders who met in Johannesburg over the weekend discussed the months of seething popular unrest in Burundi. One UN official has warned the violence was being stoked by pro-government youth militia.

Hopes that fresh elections would lift Burundi out of violence and constitutional crisis, which has engulfed the country since late April, suffered a blow on Thursday (11.06.2015) when 17 political parties threatened to boycott the poll, because they didn't believe it would be free or fair.

Parliamentary polls are scheduled for June 29; presidential elections for July 15.

The government is pressing ahead with the vote saying any lengthy delay would lead to a dangerous power vacuum and possibly more violence.

Security forces have used a combination of live ammunition, tear gas and water canon to break up the protests in which at least 20 people have been killed and hundreds wounded.

Demonstrators are objecting President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term saying it contravenes the constitution.

The constitutional court has ruled in the president's favor.

Amid the chaos - which included an abortive coup by a former intelligence chief in May - nearly 100,000 people have left the country.

Many of those who have fled have given accounts to journalists and aid workers of threats from the ruling CNDD-FDD's youth group Imbonerakure, which diplomats say has been armed and has been acting like a pro-government militia.

The government dismisses the charge, saying the group is purely political. It accuses opponents of stirring up tensions in a nation that emerged from an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.

'Beyond insitutions'

The Imbonerakure has over 2 million members. Their president, Denis Karera, denied the allegations leveled against the organization.

"I don't know of any arm that was distributed to our members. I cannot accept this. I am against violence," he told DW.

Bujumbura Burundi Protest Gewalt

Elections in Burundi were delayed following weeks of street protests

But Doneiten Kwizera, head of the youth wing of the Burundian MSD opposition party, said he had evidence that arms had been distributed to Imbonerakure. He also said they were acting as if they were above the law.

"From what we see, the Imbonerakure youths are behaving as if they are beyond institutions," he told DW.

His remarks would appear to confirm observations made the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

"We have been receiving consistent testimonies indicating that Imbonerakure members operate under instructions from the ruling party and with the support of the national police and intelligence services, who provide them with weapons, vehicles and sometimes uniforms," he said.

"If these claims are even partly true, they indicate an extremely dangerous effort to escalate fear and tension," the UN Human Rights Commissioner added. "They could tip an already extremely tense situation over the edge."

Frequent clashes between police and protesters have alarmed neighbours in a region with a history of ethnic conflict, particularly Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix as Burundi and suffered the 1994 genocide.

The reports from refugees cited by the UN rights chief and the opposition youth wing echo those made by protesters in the capital who have accused Imbonerakure members of attacking them during rallies, sometimes saying they had dressed up in police uniforms.

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