Rights group urges troops for Burundi to prevent genocide

UNITED NATIONS (AP) " A global human rights umbrella organization is urging Africa, Europe and the United Nations to send a civilian protection force to Burundi to prevent a possible civil war and genocide.

The International Federation for Human Rights, known as FIDH, and Burundian Human Rights League ITEKA said in a report issued Tuesday that the government's recent break with the international community "heralds a new intensification of repression and crimes against citizens who are considered hostile to the regime."

The report cited what it called several "dramatic actions" by Burundi's government. They include the government's withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, its denunciation of a U.N. human rights report "damning of the regime," its expulsion of the African Union and three U.N. experts, and its suspension of five Burundi organizations defending human rights, including ITEKA.

Burundi's government rejected the report, saying the organizations that produced it "are aiming at regime change," manipulated by the opposition and using false information, said Jean Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, deputy spokesman for President Pierre Nkurunziza.

"We are not surprised by what they say. There is nothing new," Karerwa told The Associated Press.

War in Burundi " which is overwhelmingly Hutu " started in 1993 when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu. Fighting mainly between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army resulted in the deaths of 300,000 people. A cease-fire was declared in 2006 but fighting persisted for years.

The latest unrest began in April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term, which some called unconstitutional. He won re-election, and protests turned to violence.

According to the new report, the human toll is now more than 1,000 dead, 8,000 detained on political grounds, between 300 and 800 people missing, hundreds tortured, thousands arrested, and hundreds of women subjected to sexual violence.

"These abuses, committed mainly by Burundian security forces, have already forced more than 310,000 people to flee the country," it said.

FIDH and ITEKA, which have observers in the country, said "crimes against humanity are being committed in Burundi today." It cited systematic arrests, summary and extrajudicial executions and torture. The groups also said soldiers from the former Tutsi-dominated army are being purged and dozens have been murdered, arrested or transferred.

Senior officials also "increasingly and brazenly denounce 'Tutsis' as enemies of the regime," they said.

FIDH released a circular from Burundi's Senate requiring every government office and public enterprise to classify employees by ethnicity " Tutsi, Hutu or Twa " saying this was to conform with the agreement that ended the civil war.

The rights group said such ethnic classification isn't required under the accord.

In the 1994 Rwanda genocide, more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu majority were killed by Hutu extremists. It ended after Tutsi-led rebels ousted the extremist Hutu government that orchestrated the killings. Rwanda's government remains Tutsi-led.

This year, Burundi has refused to allow the African Union to send 5,000 peacekeepers and the United Nations to deploy 228 international police.

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Eloge Willy Kaneza contributed to this report from Bujumbura, Burundi.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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