BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A prominent Burundi human rights activist who openly opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term in office was shot and seriously injured on Monday, a family member and witnesses said.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who heads the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), was shot by motorcyclists a day after Nkurunziza’s former security chief was ambushed and killed.
Burundi has been in chaos since late April when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office, a move that his opponents and Western powers said violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.
Nkurunziza was declared the winner of the July 21 election.
A relative of Mbonimpa said he was in intensive care in a Bujumbura hospital after being shot in his vehicle near his home north of the capital before sunset on Monday.
“He was going home when suddenly a group of motorcyclists encircled him and started shooting at him. Many of the bikers had guns,” the relative said.
Many members of Burundi’s civil society who opposed Nkurunziza’s reelection have fled the country, but Mbonimpa remained.
The shooting came one night after gunmen dressed in military uniforms shot and killed General Adolphe Nshimirimana along with his bodyguards in Bujumbura. Nshimirimana had been in charge of Nkurunziza’s personal security at the time of his death.
Nkurunziza called for calm after that attack, saying security forces need to be strengthened to prevent future killings and pleading with Burundians “not to fall in trap of revenge”.
“We ask every Burundian, in hills and the capital, to stay united,” he told state radio, vowing the killers would be brought to justice. But late on Sunday, bursts of sporadic gunfire could be heard in northern Bujumbura.
Nshimirimana, a former chief of staff in Burundi’s army, was seen as part of Nkurunziza’s inner circle. Opponents say he was one of the key men who thwarted an attempted coup last May and led a crackdown on protesters.
Some army generals behind the attempted coup have vowed to lead a rebellion to oust the president.
African leaders fear the violence could split the country down ethnic lines and lead to another civil war, an alarming prospect for a region still scared by the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda where 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. Burundi has a similar ethnic make-up.
Editing by Edith Honan and Tom Heneghan