NAIROBI (Reuters) – Burundi’s president has urged the African nation’s military to stay united after a failed assassination attempt against the army chief.
The military said three soldiers guarding General Prime Niyongabo and two gunmen were killed when assailants attacked the general’s convoy early on Friday morning. Six others were wounded.
The ambush follows a string of attacks on government and opposition figures over the past few months in Burundi, a country in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April he would seek a third term in office.
Nkurunziza won re-election in July, but the election was boycotted by the opposition, who claimed his running violated the constitution. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the voting was “deeply flawed”.
Nkurunziza said the attempt to kill Niyongabo was part of plans to divide the military, an unnerving prospect in a nation where 300,000 people were killed during a 12-year ethnically charged civil war that ended in 2005.
That civil war pitted rebel groups from the Hutu majority against the army, at the time commanded by minority Tutsis.
“Such an attack has as objective of creating chaos within security forces,” said the president’s deputy spokesman, Louis Kamwenubusa, who read a statement on behalf Nkurunziza late on Friday. “The head of state asks members of those corps to stay calm and united in a bid to avoid falling in the trap of the enemy.”
Several renegade army officials attempted to remove the president by staging a coup in May, but were thwarted. They have since vowed to continue their efforts to oust Nkurunziza.
On Friday, the army also warned any divisions in the army could threaten the whole nation, with many diplomats worried Burundi could slide back into civil war if the army splinters down ethnic lines.
Soldiers should “resist any form of manipulation aimed at destroying the army and thereby the nation”, army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza said.
Earlier this week, gunmen shot dead an opposition official and last month General Adolphe Nshimirimana, who was in charge of Nkurunziza’s personal security, was killed in an ambush.