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Youth wing of Burundi's ruling party accused of killings

Youth wing of Burundi's ruling party accused of killings

KAMPALA, Uganda — Members of the youth league of Burundi's ruling party have beaten, tortured and killed scores of people across the country in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch.

Members of the Imbonerakure youth group carry out violent crimes with impunity because President Pierre Nkurunziza's government is unwilling to prosecute or rein in the youth group, said the rights group in a report released Thursday.

Imbonerakure members have been frequently mentioned among the perpetrators of violence that has rocked Burundi since April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a disputed third term.

"Burundians live in fear of the next attack, afraid to speak out to denounce the killings, torture, and other abuses," said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The killers and torturers who carry out violence so freely and the Burundian officials who support them need to know that there are consequences for their actions."

A spokeswoman for the ruling party denied the allegations, telling Human Rights Watch that Imbonerakure carry out political activities "calmly and serenely" and do not make arrests.

Hundreds of people have since died, with the security forces and members of Imbonerakure blamed for most of the killings. Some members of the ruling party, including high-ranking government officials have also been killed or wounded in apparent revenge attacks.

The new Human Rights Watch report is based on interviews with more than 20 victims who described abuses perpetrated by Imbonerakure in six provinces across Burundi. The incidents include the fatal beating of a 15-year-old boy.

"One man said he filed a complaint with the police in February 2016 after two policemen raped his wife. They told him he was 'staining the image of the security forces.' After police threatened him and Imbonerakure members beat him up, he withdrew the complaint," the report said.

Burundian authorities have opposed efforts by the international community to send in peacekeepers or unarmed police to help bolster security in the volatile country.

Rodney Muhumuza, The Associated Press