US warns Americans to leave violence-torn Burundi

A resident looks at bodies of unidentified men killed during gunfire, in the Nyakabiga neighbourhood of Burundi's capital Bujumbura, on Dec 12, 2015.
A resident looks at bodies of unidentified men killed during gunfire, in the Nyakabiga neighbourhood of Burundi's capital Bujumbura, on Dec 12, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Sunday (Dec 13) ordered non-emergency US government personnel and dependents to leave violence-torn Burundi and warned other Americans to get out "as soon as it is feasible to do so."

The State Department warning followed an upsurge of political violence in the capital Bujumbura that left nearly 90 people dead, the worst outbreak since a failed May coup.

"The US Department of State warns US citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that US citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so," it said.

"As a result of continuing violence, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of US government personnel and non-emergency US government personnel from Burundi on Dec 13," it said.

It added that the US embassy was able to offer American citizens "only very limited emergency services." Bujumbura was quiet on Sunday after what the government said were coordinated assaults on three military installations early Friday.

Several witnesses accused the security forces of extrajudicial killings in the hours following the attacks, describing officers breaking down doors in search of young men and shooting them at close range.

Some of the victims had their arms tied behind their backs, they said.

Army Colonel Gaspard Baratuza said 79 "enemies" and eight soldiers were killed during and after the assaults on the military installations.

President Pierre Nkurunziza's re-election to a third term in disputed polling in July has fueled a surge in political violence that has raised fears of a return of a civil war a decade after a conflict between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, who dominate the army.

The State Department travel warning noted that "gunfire and grenade attacks occur with frequency, but are usually not directed at foreigners.

"If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows," it said.

It also noted that the government's control over the armed forces and security services "is not complete," and police and military checkpoints throughout the country "have the potential to seriously restrict freedom of movement."

"Police have also searched the homes of private US citizens as a part of larger weapons searches," it said.