Burundi's government purging Tutsi army officers - report

Bujumbura - Burundi's ruling party is purging ethnic Tutsi army officers in a campaign of repression, a human rights group says, accusing the international community of inaction amid deadly political violence in the East African country.

Hundreds of Tutsi soldiers in the national army have been murdered, disappeared or detained, and others have deserted, according to the new report by the International Federation for Human Rights and Burundi-based partners.

Burundian authorities blame the Tutsi, an ethnic minority, for the instability, the report says.

"The primary positions of command in the main army corps are now occupied by a Hutu majority, loyal to the president," the report says. "The army has become a highly politicized body."

The international community's efforts to depoliticize the army after the country's long civil war "are being obliterated," the report adds.

Burundi's government on Tuesday denounced the report, saying the local groups that helped produce it are not officially recognised.

"This is fake. They are mercenaries who work for some foreign people who want to destroy our country," said Therence Natahiraja, assistant spokesperson for the interior ministry.

The government has previously denied a campaign of repression and harassment of Tutsi army officers.

The war in Burundi started in 1993 when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu.

Fighting mainly between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army resulted in the deaths of 300 000 people. A cease-fire was declared in 2006 but it took several years for fighting to end.

The latest violence erupted in April 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to seek a disputed third term that he ultimately won. More than 500 people have been killed, according to the United Nations, although some rights groups say at least 1 000 have died.

Tutsis make up 14% of Burundi's 10 million people, while Hutus are about 85% of the population.

Burundi's government has accused neighboring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic composition, of supporting rebels opposed to Nkurunziza.

Rwanda's government denies it.

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