World must act to avoid Burundi catastrophe - exiled journalist

Geneva -The international community should prepare for a possible military intervention in Burundi, one of the country's top journalists said.

"We are facing a catastrophic situation," Bob Rugurika, head of African Public Radio (RPA), Burundi's most popular private radio station which was shut down by the state in May, told AFP in an interview in Geneva this week.

"It is a catastrophe created and planned by the presidential camp," he said, insisting that "the international community should prepare for a military intervention ... to at least reduce the damage".

Burundi has been in crisis since late April over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third five-year term in office - a move critics have branded unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war in 2006.

At least 70 people have been killed in opposition protests that have been brutally suppressed, according to Aprodeh, a leading Burundian human rights group.

Weeks of violence

Rugurika's comments came as the country's ruling party announced on Tuesday it was boycotting the restart of the UN-led talks aimed at brokering peace after weeks of violence.

"The international community can see the danger approaching," Rugurika said in Geneva, where he met with the UN representatives.

"If tomorrow catastrophe happens in Burundi, if we see violence on a large scale, and multiple human lives are lost, the international community will not have an excuse," he said.

Rugurika welcomed an threat by EU foreign ministers to sanction individuals responsible for the violence.

But sanctions would not be enough, he said, accusing Nkurunziza's administration of being prepared to "bathe the country in fire and blood" to protect themselves and stay in power.

Elections 'a farce'

Parliamentary elections are planned for June 29, ahead of the presidential vote on July 15.

Burundi has rejected the African Union's call to delay the polls further, but has agreed to allow in AU military observers and human rights experts ahead of the elections, under certain conditions.

"These elections will be a farce," said Rugurika, who fled Burundi last month after his radio station was used by a former intelligence chief to announce a coup attempt that ultimately failed.

Burundi's main independent radio stations were all attacked by pro-government forces and taken off air during the failed coup and have not been permitted to reopen.

Rugurika, who spent a month in jail at the beginning of the year after implicating intelligence officials in the murders of three Italian nuns, accused the government of using the coup attempt as an excuse to destroy the country's independent media.

"It was a premeditated act," he said.

More than 20 other journalists from RPA have gone into exile, Rugurika said.

"We are continuing the fight, and we will return to Burundi, no matter how long it takes," he vowed.

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