Political crisis in Burundi as ministers quit

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Burundi was plunged deeper into a political crisis Wednesday after the three government ministers resigned.

The resignations of the Uprona party members upsets an increasingly delicate power-sharing arrangement between Burundi's Hutu and Tutsi communities, who are still struggling to reconcile after decades of conflict.

The Uprona party said District Development minister Jean-Claude Ndihokubwayo, Communications minister Leocadie Nihaza and Trade minister Victoire Ndikumana had all walked out of the Cabinet.

"We refuse to cohabit with the ruling party of President Pierre Nkurunziza, which is going out of its way to destroy us," Uprona spokesman Tatien Sibomana told AFP.

The resignations follow an attempt by the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, to force out Uprona's party chairman Charles Nditije ahead of elections scheduled for 2015 and replace him with a sympathiser.

Uprona is the only Burundian grouping other than the CNDD-FDD not to have boycotted the 2010 elections. The other parties complained that the vote was marred by rigging.

In addition to the three ministers, Uprona had a vice-president in government, but over the past few months the party had become increasingly critical of the ruling party over sensitive issues such as a possible third term for President Nkurunziza, the revision of the constitution and the distribution of land.

Ethnic killings

Tensions over land run high in densely-populated Burundi, where successive waves of Hutu and Tutsi returning from exile have often laid claim to the same plots of land.

The constitution is similarly sensitive as — after decades of large-scale ethnic massacres — it guarantees power sharing between the Hutu majority, which represents 85 per cent of the population, and the Tutsi minority.

The government body tasked with resolving land disputes has been accused in recent months of a pro-Hutu bias.

Simmering tensions between Uprona and the CNDD-FDD spiralled into a full-blown crisis last week when Interior minister Edouard Nduwimana removed Charles Nditije as Uprona party chairman and sought to replace him with a ruling party sympathiser — a move widely seen as an attempt at infiltration ahead of the 2015 polls.

Burundi's First Vice-President Bernard Busokoza, himself a Tutsi and member of Uprona, was removed by President Nkurunziza on Saturday after he tried to override Mr Nduwimana's decision.

Both Mr Nditije and Mr Busokoza have gone into hiding for fear of being arrested.

Burundi's history is marred by bitter ethnic killings, with massacres in 1972 and 1988, as well as civil war.

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