October 1, 2015 / 11:00 AM / 2 years ago

Burundi to pursue the 'few' officials behind killings: president

A policewoman carries a Burundi flag during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi’s president said those in possession of illegal arms have a month to relinquish them and that authorities will hold to account the “few” security officials behind cases of killings and torture.

President Pierre Nkurunziza made the comments late on Wednesday after the U.N. human rights chief said this week that there had been an “alarming upsurge” in arrests and killings, with some bodies of victims showing signs of torture.

The central African state tumbled into a political crisis after Nkurunziza said in April he would run for a third term.

Opponents said another five-year term, which he began in August, violated a peace deal that ended a 12-year civil war in 2005, a conflict that left Burundi awash with arms.

“The government gives one month to those who illegally possess arms to hand them over,” Nkurunziza said in an address broadcast on state radio and television. “Beyond this period, whoever is caught with arms will be punished.”

The president said the judiciary had uncovered cases of ”security officers caught red-handed killing or torturing people while they are supposed to be ensuring peace and security.

“Even if they are few, we are going to seriously deal with them as criminals,” he said.

There have been a spate of shootings, grenade attacks and killings in recent weeks, targeting top government officials, members of the opposition and others. Bodies have often been found lying in the street after overnight violence in Bujumbura.

“There is an increasing risk that spiraling tit-for-tat violence will plunge the country back into its bloody past,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Monday, adding that bodies of victims often showed they were killed by a single shot and also showed signs of torture.

The rights chief also criticized the rising number of arrests. The government says it targets those behind violence.

In the latest incident, a spokesman for the intelligence service SNR, Télesphore Bigirimana, said an officer and owner of a Bujumbura bar where he was drinking were killed by gunmen on Wednesday night. Gunfire was heard overnight in other areas.

A police spokesman said a police officer was also killed on Wednesday afternoon, but ruled out a political motive.

Nkurunziza said the authorities would release “youths involved in the insurgency” but not others behind violence.

A group of army officers staged a failed coup attempt in May and, since then, one of those generals said forces loyal to the coup leaders were behind rebel assaults in north Burundi in July and other grenade attacks on officials.

The spiraling number of attacks and killings could drive the nation back into a low-level conflict, analysts say.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by George Obulutsa/Mark Heinrich

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