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Govt continued diplomatic offensive as part of effort to alleviate country’s isolation; clampdown on opposition and civil society persisted. Authorities 2 April lifted June 2019 ban on independent NGO PARCEM in apparent move to respond to EU’s demands for improvements in human rights and media freedom. Govt and EU 9 April held second round of negotiations on normalising relations, including lifting EU sanctions and resuming direct financial support; EU invited Burundian FM Albert Shingiro for European tour, which started 26 April. Amid rapprochement with Rwanda, govt 2 April welcomed Kigali’s late March decision to suspend three Burundian radio stations, which had been operating from Kigali since 2015 political crisis in Burundi, said move showed “dialogue [with country] was not in vain”. AU Peace and Security Council 27 April met to discuss possible shutdown of Human Rights Observers and Military Experts Mission in Burundi; decision expected early May. Meanwhile, authorities continued to harass opposition and civil society. In Rumonge province, authorities 11 April arrested opposition party Union for National Progress youth leader over accusations of hosting unauthorised gathering and 14 April arrested civilian for allegedly cooperating with rebel group. Authorities 13 April decried as biased U.S. State Dept’s annual report on human rights, published late March, which recorded at least 205 extrajudicial killings in Burundi in 2020 and highlighted “widespread impunity for govt and ruling party officials and for their supporters and proxies”. Main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) next day called on govt to release 15 CNL members who have been imprisoned for almost a year on accusations of threatening security around May 2020 general elections. Former Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Cyrille Ndayirukiye 24 April died in Gitega prison, where he was serving life sentence for allegedly playing central role in 2015 coup attempt. Authorities 26 April released first 3,000 of over 5,000 detainees who were granted presidential amnesty in March in bid to alleviate prison overcrowding.
Ruling party continued to stifle opposition and armed forces launched offensives on Hutu rebels at border with Rwanda. In Karusi province’s Buhiga and Gitaramuka communes, ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 14 March assaulted four members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom. In effort to reduce prison overcrowding, President Ndayishimiye 5 March issued presidential decree granting amnesty to over 5,000 prisoners, but left out many political prisoners detained over accusations of “participating in armed gangs” or “endangering security of the state”. NGO Human Rights Watch 8 March called on govt to drop charges and release eight former Burundian refugees – whom Tanzania forcibly returned in July 2020 – on trial for allegedly “attacking the integrity of the national territory and participating in armed gangs”; two additional refugees reported missing 6-7 March. In address to UN Human Rights Council, UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 11 March acknowledged some steps taken by authorities to improve human rights record but concluded that current situation “too complex and uncertain to be referred to as genuine improvement”; Burundian representative decried briefing as “politically motivated”. Meanwhile, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of 2000 Arusha peace accords and tasked with investigating past violence, 19 March presented results of its findings in Bururi province to parliament; results sparked mixed reactions as some accused Commission of focusing on killings of Hutu ethnic group members only. Amid recent diplomatic rapprochement with Rwanda, Burundian armed forces late Feb-1 March launched offensive against Rwandan Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, remnant of Rwandan Hutu militia that killed much of the Tutsi minority and many moderate Hutu during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide; clashes in Mabayi commune, Cibitoke province left at least two rebels dead and 15 soldiers injured. Also in Mabayi commune, Burundian authorities 18 March arrested two civilians suspected of complicity with Kinyarwanda-speaking armed group.