- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) - Burundi edged closer toward a civil war Thursday with the announcement of the launch of a new rebel group that aims to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza.

A former senior officer in Burundi’s army told The Associated Press that he and other army officers have formed a rebel movement known as the Republican Forces of Burundi to remove Nkurunziza from power.

The new rebel group’s main objective is to protect Burundians who are being killed because they are protesting the violation of the country’s constitution by Nkurunziza who extended his time in power, said Lt. Col. Edouard Nshimirimana, who was in charge of military transmissions and communications before he defected in September.

Burundi has been rocked by turmoil since April when it was announced that Nkurunziza would run for a third term in office. Nkurunziza won elections in July but the violence has since escalated.

The rebel force was behind the recent attacks on three military camps, where they captured enough weapons to fight Burundi’s army, said Nshimirimana, who trained at ISCAM, a military school in Burundi, and was commander of the 17 Battalion.

At least 87 people were killed in Bujumbura in December when rebels attacked two military barracks in Bujumbura and one in Mujejuru in the Bujumbura Rural province.

More than 400 people have been killed in Burundi and some 220,000 have fled to neighboring countries since April .Violent street protests in opposition to Nkurunziza staying in power boiled over into a failed military coup in May. The leader of the coup, Godefroid Niyombare, is at large but a former defense minister is among 28 officials facing trial for the failed overthrow.

The other objective of the rebellion is to protect the Arusha Agreement that limits Burundian presidents to two terms in office, said Nshimirimana. All forces against Nkurunziza are united under the Republican Forces of Burundi, Nshimirimana said.

“We have no choice and the world is not helping Burundians who are being killed, he said.

“We are calling on all Burundians who believe in the rule of law to join us,” Nshimirimana said, adding that many soldiers of various ranks who are suspected of opposing Nkurunziza’s third term in office, have been harassed, arrested and in some cases killed by members of security services.

The Arusha Agreement ended Burundi’s 13-year civil war 10 years ago and integrated former Hutu rebels into the Tutsi-dominated army to create a more ethnically balanced force.

“The Arusha Agreement was the solution to Burundi’s political problems. Now that it has collapsed, the war is inevitable,” Nshimirimana told AP.

The Arusha Agreement introduced power-sharing quotas in the government institutions and military forces, with the objective of protecting the minority Tutsis by giving them a disproportionately large share of power in government. Tutsis make up about 14 percent of Burundi’s 10 million people, while the Hutu make up about 85 percent.

Although Burundi’s current unrest has been based on political divisions, there is growing international concern that the country threatens to descend into ethnic violence, such as neighboring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide by majority Hutus against the minority Tutsi.

Burundi’s army, spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza, was not immediately available for comment but had earlier said after Nshimirimana’s defection that Burundi had a force of 30,000 army capable of defending the country.

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