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Over 900 flee Burundi to Uganda over forced participation in vote

KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- Over 900 Burundians have fled to Uganda claiming that they are being forced to participate in the voting exercise for a new constitution, an operation update by the UN refugee agency said on Thursday.

The update by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued here said in the month of April 994 Burundians crossed into Uganda seeking refuge.

“The latest wave of new arrivals from Burundi revealed that they fled due to forced participation in the voting exercise for new constitution scheduled in May 2018,” the report said.

The new arrivals bring the total number of Burundian refugees who have fled to Uganda to 2,074 individuals since the beginning of this year, according to UNHCR figures.

The refugees are mostly from the provinces of Bubanza, Bujumbura, Bururi, Cankuzo, Cibitoke and Karusi.

The others are from Kayanza, Kirundo, Muramvya, Muyinga, Ngozi and Ruyigi.

The UN agency said the refugees are also reporting persecution by the Imbonerakure militias as well as forced repatriation from Tanzania and Rwanda.

Burundians will vote in a referendum on the country’s draft constitution on May 17. The draft constitution extends the presidential term from five years provided in the 2005 constitution to seven years and allows the president to serve two consecutive terms.

The draft does not ban the current president Pierre Nkurunziza to run again in 2020.



Over 70,000 Burundian refugees to be repatriated by December: UNHCR

DAR ES SALAAM, (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency said on Thursday 72,000 Burundian refugees will be repatriated from Tanzania between April 5 and December 31, this year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement that an agreement to repatriate the refugees was jointly made by Tanzania, Burundi and the UN refugee agency.

The statement said the repatriation of the Burundian refugees was agreed at the 20th meeting of the Tripartite Commission for the Voluntary Repatriation of Burundian Refugees in Tanzania held in the Burundi capital Bujumbura on March 28, this year.

The voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees continued until March 29 when a convoy transporting 515 Burundian returnees from Nduta refugee camp to Songore transit center in Ngozi province in Burundi was involved in an accident near Ngara town in Kagera region in Tanzania, said the statement.

The statement said the accident left eight people dead, including six refugees, one International Organization for Migration (IOM) staff and one bystander.

The government of Tanzania, UNHCR, and its partners quickly mobilized to provide assistance to the Burundian refugees following the tragedy, said the statement.

During a review meeting between the government of Tanzania, UNHCR, and IOM, it was agreed that the voluntary repatriation exercise would be temporarily put on hold until mid-April and standard operating procedures reviewed, said the statement.

The statement said UNHCR will continue to support the operation to ensure that the repatriations were carried out in a sustainable and durable manner, based on the principles of voluntariness and informed decisions, and took place in safety and dignity.

There are 270,629 Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers living in Tanzania, and 84 percent of them have been in Tanzania since April 2015.


Burundi to distribute voter cards for constitutional referendum

BUJUMBURA Burundi (Xinhua) -- Voter cards for Burundi’s constitutional referendum on May 17 will start to be distributed Wednesday at registration centers, a spokesperson for the Burundian electoral commission (CENI) said Tuesday.

The number of registered voters expected to get voter cards is 4,768,142 in total, spokesperson Prosper Ntahorwamiye said at a press conference.

The distribution will take place at registration centers nationwide between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. local time, and will be concluded on May 13, Ntahorwamiye said.

The spokesperson said heavy electoral equipment like ballot boxes and electoral booths are being deployed to provinces, and is due to finish on May 12.

All the electoral equipment should have arrived in provinces by May 13, he said.

The CENI granted accreditations to 39 local civil society organizations to monitor the referendum, according to Ntahorwamiye.

Political parties are currently campaigning for the referendum across the country. As the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and its allies are calling on the Burundian people to support draft amendments, opposition coalition Burundians’ Hope asks voters to vote against the change.

The draft Constitution provides for the creation of the post of a prime minister and only one vice-president, whereas the 2005 Constitution provides for two vice-presidents. The prime minister is to be designated from the ruling party, while the vice-president will come from a different party.

It extends the presidential term from the five years provided in the 2005 Constitution to seven years and allows the president to serve two consecutive terms.

The present Constitution of Burundi stipulates that a president of Burundi cannot serve for more than two terms.

The draft Constitution will be passed if it is approved by over 50 percent of voters.

Incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected the president of Burundi by the parliament in 2005, and was re-elected in a universal suffrage in 2010 and in 2015.

The landlocked country plunged into a crisis in April 2015 when Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, which he won in July 2015. His candidature, opposed by the opposition and civil society groups, resulted in a wave of protests, violence and even a failed coup in May 2015.

Main opposition groups had been saying that Nkurunziza’s third term bid was a violation of the Constitution and the Arusha Agreement that ended an over decade-long civil war, but the Constitutional Court issued a ruling saying that Nkurunziza’s 2005-2010 term should not be considered as a term because he was elected by the parliament and not directly by citizens.


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