Rwanda warns Burundi over political unrest

Kigali - Rwanda has warned neighbouring Burundi it must protect civilians in ongoing political unrest, saying it was concerned at reports Rwandan rebels were involved as thousands of refugees flee.

"While we respect Burundi's sovereignty in addressing internal matters, Rwanda considers the safety of innocent population as a regional and international responsibility," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement late on Monday.

"Rwanda urges the government of Burundi to take immediate necessary steps to ensure the protection of its population, end the worsening humanitarian situation and restore peace," a foreign ministry statement added.

Mushikiwabo said she was concerned at "reports" violence was linked to ethnic Hutu rebels of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The FDLR has been active in Democratic Republic of Congo - regions bordering both Rwanda and Burundi - since crossing over the border from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide of mainly Tutsi people there.

Unrest and violence

Rwanda has previously sent troops into DRC to target the rebels.

"We take seriously the reports of links to FDLR, the hundreds refugees crossing into Rwanda daily and above all the imperative of protection of civilians," Mushikiwabo added.

Burundi, where a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus ended only in 2006, has been rocked by violent protests since the ruling party designated President Pierre Nkurunziza to run in elections for a third term, in apparent defiance of the constitution and the Arusha accords which ended the war.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, comes from Burundi's Hutu majority.

Over 30 000 Burundians have fled as refugees into neighbouring nations, some 25 000 of those northwards to Rwanda.

"Increasing reports of unrest and violence targeting unarmed civilians are particularly worrying," the Rwandan statement added.

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