Burundian opposition leader and former rebel chief Agathon Rwasa has said he fears for his life and has asked the government to speed up talks to end a crisis that began in 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he wanted a third term.
Burundi has been marred by instability since April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced his plan to run for a third term. The opposition said such a move was unconstitutional and violated a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005.
Nkurunziza cited a court ruling saying he could run, and the government accuses opponents of fomenting unrest and backing rebel groups. At least 450 people have been killed in violence since the crisis began, rights groups say.
Talks between the government and its opponents in Bujumbura in 2015 failed to bridge their differences, and more negotiations mediated by Uganda in 2016 also stalled.
Rwasa accused the government of harassing opposition supporters, including from his National Liberation Forces (FNL) party. He said he feared for his life, claiming that unidentified members of the police and army wanted him dead.
“Some people believe that once Rwasa is killed they will stay or conquer power easily. But killing Rwasa will not help the country at all,” he told Reuters at the weekend.
Rwasa, who is also the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, said members of the opposition across the country were also being used as scapegoats.
“When there is crime committed somewhere, regardless of who committed it, the first thing to do is to arrest people from FNL and find false accusations to keep them in jail,” he said.
Nkurunziza’s spokesman, Jean Claude Karerwa, said no one wanted to harm Rwasa and that the courts should decide any accusations he wanted to make.
“We also ask him to use a type of language which doesn’t cause panic among the population,” Karerwa said.
Rwasa said the government did not appear keen to participate in talks and that political parties seemed to be unable to find a solution.
The government has said it would not hold talks with parties it said were involved in the violence in 2015-16.
“The government’s goodwill has never been denied. The last session was held in February, we don’t know when is the next, and it’s not the government to blame,” said Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, the foreign minister and one of the government’s negotiators.
Some 390,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries since the crisis began, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Paul Tait)