Bujumbura, Burundi: In coordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi before dawn Friday. At least 15 people were killed as gunfire and explosions rocked the African capital of Bujumbura, marking a steep escalation of a simmering conflict.
Around 4 a.m., the unidentified attackers wearing civilian clothing hit two military installations in the capital and one in the countryside. Terrified civilians in Bujumbura stayed in their homes as stray rounds hit some of them.
The sounds of battle continued into the afternoon, residents said. Military and police vehicles were the only ones on the deserted streets and roadblocks were set up.
“A stray bullet hit the wall of my neighbor’s house. We do not know what’s going on in the streets. We are living in fear,” said Claire Biguda, a resident of the city’s Nyakabiga neighborhood, who was locked up in her house along with her husband and two children.
Taxi driver Emery Sahabo said, facing roadblocks and gunfire early Friday, he and other motorists abandoned their cars and ran home.
Burundian officials have previously accused neighboring Rwanda of supporting an insurgency against President Pierre Nkurunziza. There was no immediate comment from Rwanda.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and warned they could lead to further destabilization in Burundi.
“Anyone responsible for ordering or committing human rights violations will be held individually accountable,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The U.N. chief urged Burundi’s government to create conditions for an inclusive dialogue “that can address the deep political challenges facing the country.”
The U.N. Security Council also strongly condemned the latest attacks, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the council should look at “how the international community can protect civilians from mass violence, including for the possible deployment of a regionally led peace support operation.”
Friday’s fighting is apparently part of violence linked to Nkurunziza’s third term, which many Burundians and foreign observers had opposed as unconstitutional and in violation of peace accords. The treaty ended a civil war in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2006.
At least 240 people have been killed since April and about 215,000 others have fled to neighboring countries, according to the U.N. Several hundred people have also been imprisoned for opposing Nkurunziza’s re-election this year.
Twelve attackers were killed on Friday and 20 others were arrested, including one who was wounded and is being treated at a military hospital, military spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza told state radio.
The attackers wanted to steal weapons and use them to free prisoners, he said.
Baratuza said five soldiers were wounded in the attacks. However, military officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said three soldiers were killed.
Five attackers and two soldiers were killed in the assault at a camp in Ngagara neighborhood, a soldier said.
Another soldier at the ISCAM military academy said one soldier died there.
A third attack took place in Mujejuru, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital, Baratuza said.
Nkurunziza, who took power in 2005, won re-election in July. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Nkurunziza, who says he was entitled to another term because for his first term he was elected by parliament and not by popular mandate. The deputy president of the Constitutional Court fled to exile in Rwanda before the ruling and said the court had been coerced to rule in favor of the president.
Burundi has a history of deadly conflicts between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, though the current violence appears more politically than ethnically motivated.
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