Burundi’s military forces have killed 31 armed men and captured 171 others in clashes north of the East African nation, the army has announced.
According to a Monday announcement by the army’s spokesman, Colonel Gaspard Baratuza, the clashes took place late last week in Kayanza province during which six government soldiers were injured. He added that the nation’s military is probing the incident to find the identity of the armed men.
The development came as local observers reportedly consider the battle as a precursor to an emerging insurgency in the impoverished nation by a section of the army that backed a failed coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza back in May.
The developments came after Nkurunziza announced on Saturday the postponement of the country’s upcoming presidential elections from July 15 to July 21 under apparent international pressure to put them off as long as violent protest rallies against his controversial bid to seek a third term in office persist.
The country has witnessed months of protest rallies during which nearly 80 people have been killed by government forces. This is while the opposition has boycotted the presidential polls, leaving only the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and its affiliated parties to compete for the presidency.
Moreover, opposition leader Agathon Rwasa insists that his supporters have been arrested in northern province of Muyinga and that police forces are accusing them of links with the armed attacks in Kayanza. He has also rejected involvement in any armed efforts.
Meanwhile, one of the nation’s coup plotters, General Leonard Ngendakumana, has identified the gunmen in the Kayanza clashes as soldiers backing the coup, insisting that they would continue to stage more attacks until Nkurunziza drops his bid for a third presidential term.
This is while Burundi’s national police spokesman Liboire Bakundukize has fled to neighboring Rwanda, expressing fear for his safety after complaining publicly that the country’s police force included members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, which has been accused of attacking government opponents and protesters.
Bakundukize reportedly told a Rwandan radio station that Burundi’s police officers, who had refused to cooperate with the Imbonerakure in suppressing protest efforts, were later found dead.
The violence, meanwhile, has fueled fears of a repetition of the country’s 1993-2005 civil war, during which an estimated 300,000 were killed.