Two killed as Burundi forces search for weapons

Burundi Police Officials

Burundi Police Officials

At least two people were killed and a policeman wounded in gun battles in Burundi’s capital, police and witnesses said Monday, as security forces searched opposition strongholds for weapons.

Ahead of UN Security Council talks on Burundi’s worsening violence later Monday, a senior police officer said “armed criminals” wounded an officer when they hurled a grenade at a patrol in the capital Bujumbura, in the flashpoint opposition district of Musaga.

“Two people, including a student who came out of his house, were killed by the officers firing in all directions,” a witness said, who asked not to be named. Two other witness confirmed the account.

Burundi has suffered a dramatic rise in killings, arrests and detentions since President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a controversial bid to stand for a third term in April.

The clashes came on the second day of a huge security operation launched after a government weapons amnesty ended on Saturday night. Hundreds of police and soldiers have entered opposition districts searching for weapons.

The operation — a widely feared crackdown on “enemies of the nation” — has raised international alarm over fears it could unleash further bloodletting in a country still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.

While gunmen executed nine people in an attack on a bar late Saturday, hours before the amnesty ended, Bujumbura was reportedly largely quiet overnight Sunday.

Officers on Sunday displayed around a dozen rifles and grenades they said had been seized in the ongoing raids.

Many residents living in parts of Bujumbura considered opposition strongholds have fled the capital, nearly emptying districts that have seen some of the worst violence in recent months.

In Bujumbura’s Mutakura district “the night was very quiet,” one resident said, but added that those “who are left behind are afraid because the area is totally empty.”

The UN Security Council is due to meet Monday to discuss the deteriorating situation.

But Burundi’s government has dismissed concerns over its deadline to hand in illegal weapons, saying it wanted only to crush “terrorism”.

At least 200 people have died in the turmoil and some 200,000 have fled the country since April.

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