Magazine article Newsweek

War at Burundi's Front Door; Diplomats Fear the African Nation Could Be Edging toward Civil War

Magazine article Newsweek

War at Burundi's Front Door; Diplomats Fear the African Nation Could Be Edging toward Civil War

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessica Hatcher

Inabeze Medikintos felt sure she was about to die. A mob had seized her, and she was now separated from her colleagues in the Burundian police force. "Leave her for us!" an angry civilian shouted at the backs of Medikintos's retreating colleagues.

Medikintos screamed as her attackers hurled rocks and blunt objects at her head and jostled to stab her with a kitchen knife. Police had just opened fire on protesters on May 13 in the country's capital city, Bujumbura, in a bid to disperse them, killing one. But the protesters, who were angry at the government, had picked up sticks and stones and were using them in pitched battles. The police had turned and fled. The group surrounding Medikintos accused her of shooting a female protester. "They could have killed me," recalls Medikintos, a former fighter in the rebel group that brought the country's president to power. She escaped after a civilian calmed the mob down.

Now the skirmishes between forces loyal to the president and his opponents flare almost every day. Opposition supporters have mounted attacks on police, sometimes with grenades, and in mid-December they staged coordinated attacks on army bases in the capital. In retaliation, police hit squads executed dozens of civilians, residents of affected neighborhoods say. At least 400 people have died in the violence, and more than 220,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.

On December 17, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said Burundi was on the "very cusp" of civil war. That same day, the African Union met and, in a statement on social media, vowed that Africa would not "allow another genocide to take place on its soil." The AU's peace and security council has proposed the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Burundi to protect civilians and prevent further deterioration in the security situation. …

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