Burundi opposition leader criticizes lifting of US sanctions

Alexis Sinduhije during a political rally in Bujumbura on April 11, 2010

© Esdras Meet
Alexis Sinduhije during a political rally in Bujumbura on April 11, 2010

One of the fiercest opponents of the government of Burundi, Alexis Sinduhije, criticized Monday in an interview with AFP the lifting of American sanctions against this small country in East Africa, where, according to him, nothing has changed for justify this decision.

The United States announced last week the lifting of the sanctions imposed in 2015 on Burundi, then shaken by a violent political crisis, welcoming an improvement since the election to the presidency of Evariste Ndayishimiye in May 2020.

“It is astonishing that such a powerful country can look at the issue of Burundi with very reductive eyes,” said Alexis Sinduhije, president of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD).

“Citizens die every day, human rights reports speak of it, observers who are there (…) know it”, adds this 54-year-old former journalist who lives in exile in Brussels where he became one of the fiercest opponents of the Burundian regime.

“I don’t see what has changed in Burundi except in the eyes of the Americans themselves.”

Mr. Sinduhije was on Time magazine’s 100 most influential personalities list in 2008 and received an award in 2004 from the Committee for the Protection of Journalists for setting up Radio Publique Africaine, which aimed to promote peace between Tutsi and Hutu in the end of the long Burundian civil war.

Alexis Sinduhije in Bujumbura on April 11, 2010

© Esdras Meet
Alexis Sinduhije in Bujumbura on April 11, 2010

But the one who was once a candidate for the presidential election was also targeted by American sanctions, accused of having been an active support of the armed rebellion in this small country with a Hutu majority.

For Mr. Sinduhije, being on this American blacklist was “unfair” and, according to him, his Tutsi ethnicity may have played a role in bringing about “balance” with the Hutus who were there.

The US decision comes two months after the publication of a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi according to which the human rights situation remains “dire” and has “in some respects deteriorated” since the takeover by Mr. Ndayishimiye.

“Members of opposition parties (…) are still regularly the target of unreasonable restrictions and are subject to serious human rights violations such as disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions and acts of torture “, underlined in September this text.

In the same month, Burundi issued an arrest warrant against Mr. Sinduhije, accusing him of leading a group responsible for “terrorist acts” committed in recent years in the country.

The opponent claims that this is the sixth time that a Burundian government has issued an arrest warrant against him, and declares: “it is a political mandate, it is not a judicial mandate”.

Alexis Sinduhije has long been suspected by the government of being at the head of RED-Tabara, today considered the most active of the Burundian rebel groups and accused of a series of attacks since 2015.

Mr. Sinduhije has always rejected these accusations. But he told AFP that he was in contact with RED-Tabara, as well as with “all those who are fighting against power”.

“The line is (…) simple: our party demands the negotiation of an inclusive electoral process which is not” rigorous “, he assures us.

“Associating myself with Red Tabara, I think it’s a way of excluding myself politically,” he adds, adding: “I always want to discuss with them politically, I want a debate”.

“These people are heroes for me, they are not terrorists, they are heroes, they are fighting for the future of our country, for freedom, for a people who have a choice.”

According to him, the RED-Tabara, whose rear base is in DR Congo and which has between 500 and 800 men, is strengthening and now has a presence in Burundi.

In September, the rebel group claimed responsibility for an attack on the international airport in Bujumbura, the economic capital of Burundi, where several attacks took place in the same month.

In the long term, says Mr. Sinduhije, the ruling party, which emerged from the former main Hutu rebellion, will have to talk to its opponents: “Whether they like it or not, they will be forced to dialogue.”

str-txw / md /

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