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Dozens killed in Burundi attack, ahead of key vote

Sheetal Sukhija - Sunday 13th May, 2018

CIBITOKE, Burundi - Days before Burundi is set to hold a crucial referendum, on whether the constitution should be amended to extend presidential terms to seven years from five - an attack struck the region, killing dozens.

According to Burundi’s local administrator, at least 26 people were killed and seven others were injured in the attack that took place in Burundi's north western province of Cibitoke late on Friday.

In a brief statement, Emmanuel Bigirimana, the head of Buganda district, said the incident took place in a village called Ruhagarika on Friday night.

He said in his statement to Reuters, "They arrived at the village ... armed with rifles, some with machetes, and started shooting. Some died instantly and others were rushed to the hospital. The attackers were around 20 and nearly all of them were in military uniforms."

Alain Guilaume Bunyoni, the country's security minister said the group crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Cibitoke province and returned there after the assault.

Bunyoni added, "I would like to express my honest condolences to the families affected, on behalf of the Burundian government and between the different parties.”

He "strongly" condemned the killings and said the victims were "shot and burned.”

The attack came at a time when, Burundi, which plunged into crisis in April 2015 and has faced sporadic incidents of violence and abductions, is due to hold a referendum on May 17.

In 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he planned to run for a third term, but the opposition said it was unconstitutional and violated a peace deal that had ended the country's civil war in 2005.

Subsequently, Nkurunziza was re-elected, but some of his opponents took up arms against him. 

According to estimates drawn out by Rights groups, about 400,000 people have sought refuge from the violence in neighbouring countries.

Now, the country is set to vote to decide whether the constitution should be amended to extend presidential terms.

However, following the attack, Human rights groups have said that they do not think the vote will take place in a free and fair climate.

The constitutional referendum could allow Nkurunziza - who has ruled Burundi since the civil war ended there in 2005 - to stay in power for 16 more years.

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