A top advisor to Burundi’s president and the most public face of the government has escaped an assassination attempt, the latest political attack in the crisis-wracked nation.
Willy Nyamitwe was returning to his home in the capital Bujumbura on Monday night when “he was met with sustained gunfire and grenade explosions”, a high-ranking presidential official told AFP on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity,
One of his bodyguards was killed and another injured while Nyamitwe suffered slight wounds to his arm.
Police said the assailants were waiting in a nearby house under construction before launching the ambush.
“Thank God, Willy Nyamitwe narrowly escaped an attack…,” tweeted Burundi’s UN ambassador Albert Shingiro.
Nyamitwe is one of the most prominent voices in Burundi, an active tweeter who frequently criticises the West for interfering in the central African nation.
“I thank those who wish me a speedy recovery. I am doing well but saddened by the death of a best friend, the policeman Gasongo,” Nyamitwe tweeted after the attack.
His brother Alain Aime Nyamitwe, also Burundi’s foreign minister, described the assassination bid as “a new, pointless effort to disturb republican institutions”.
Born in the early 1970s, when their father was killed in a wave of ethnic violence against Hutus by the Tutsi-dominated army, the Nyamitwe brothers have risen to become Bujumbura’s bulwark against an increasingly critical international community.
– ‘Foreign plot’ –
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April last year to run for a third term, which he went on to win. More than 500 people have been killed in the unrest and at least 300 000 have fled the country, while several well-known figures, including high-ranking military officers, have been assassinated.
In April, Human Rights Minister Martin Nivyabandi and his wife where injured in a grenade attack while leaving church.
General Adolphe Nshimirimana, considered Nkurunziza’s right-hand man, was killed in August 2015, the highest-ranking member of the regime to be assassinated.
A volley of reports by international rights groups accusing the government of atrocities and warning of genocide has infuriated Bujumbura, which says there is a “foreign plot” to overthrow the government.
Burundi in October formally informed the United Nations that it intended to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
It also suspended cooperation with the UN human rights office and declared three UN rights investigators persona non grata after a damning September report detailing atrocities.
A report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) two weeks ago warned of the risk of genocide in the country which suffered a brutal civil war from 1993 to 2006 between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, which claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.
In response, Nyamitwe launched the hashtag #ThisisMyGenocide, posting pictures of himself posing with a kitten or juggling eggs to mock the “biased report”.
On Saturday, thousands of Burundians heeded a call by government to protest at a new probe into alleged rights violations after the Geneva-based Human Rights Council appointed commissioners to lead the one-year investigation.
However several opposition figures took to social media to criticise the protest, saying a note — seen by AFP — was sent to civil servants informing them that attendance was “obligatory”.