Amid reports that troops loyal to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza have been firing shots to protect the national radio station, General Niyombareh told reporters that he no longer recognises Nkurunziza as President, and that his senior officers are ‘disarming’ him,
‘Regarding President Nkurunziza’s arrogance and defiance of the international community which advised him to respect the constitution and Arusha peace agreement, the committee for the establishment of the national concord decide: President Nkurunziza is dismissed, his government is dismissed too.’
General Niyombareh is a former Hutu rebel who in 2009 became the first Hutu to become appointed as head of Burundi’s armed forces. In February, however, he was sacked as chief intelligence officer.
The small central African nation has been torn by a string of civil wars driven by ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi groups (the same conflict which triggered the 1994 genocide in Rwuanda). These have raged off and on since Burundi achieved independence from Belgium in 1962, with a fragile (and often broken) peace agreement ending the last outbreak in 2005.
Tensions have been high in Burundi ever since President Nkurunziza defied criticism from the African Union (AU) and the US, and announced that he would stand for a third term in upcoming elections. The AU has expressed grave concerns over the advisability of holding elections in the current climate, and has cast doubt over the constitutionality of standing for a third term.
50,000 Burundians have already fled the country in fear of pre-election violence, but according to President Nkurunziza,
‘Burundians have no problem with elections… because 99% of the country is peaceful.’
In an effort to tackle the resultant demonstrations, President Nkurunziza today visited regional leaders in neighboring Tanzania, but taking advantage of his absence, opposition members organized a mass rally in Bujumubura, which quickly turned violent.
As reports came in of heavy gunfire and at least three dead, General Niyombareh announced that the president was ‘dismissed.’ It remains unclear how much support General Niyombareh actually enjoys, but despite continued reports of gunfire, Niyombareh appears to remain confident,
‘The masses have decided to take into their own hands the destiny of the nation to remedy this unconstitutional environment into which Burundi has been plunged. The masses vigorously and tenaciously reject President Nkurunziza’s third term mandate in accordance with the constitution and the Arusha Accord. President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties. The government is overthrown.’
Despite this claim, however, the BBC has published a number of photos showing Burundians celebrating the coup…
This is an ongoing situation, which can be followed in real time on the BBC’s Africa Reporting Live feed…