Former rebel group declares war against Burundi government

BUJUMBURA Mon Sep 3, 2012 1:15pm EDT

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BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A former Burundian Hutu rebel group declared war against the country's government on Monday and its leader called on the president to step down, raising fears of a renewed outbreak of violence in the poor country.

The Forces for National Liberation (FNL) group had laid down its weapons and joined the government in 2009 after almost two decades of civil war that killed 300,000 people.

In a statement issued to local and international media by a representative of the FNL, the group said hundreds of its fighters and members had been killed by security forces in the central African country since an election in 2010.

"FNL party members are tired of killings, persecution and torture orchestrated against them by the CNDD-FDD ruling party," the statement said.

"The ruling party and its government continue to impoverish the population through graft and economic mismanagement. Due to all these considerations, we decided to fight the CNDD-FDD government militarily," said the statement, which bore the stamp of the FNL's military wing.

FNL leader Agathon Rwasa, whom Burundian authorities believe is hiding along with fellow combatants in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, called on President Pierre Nkurunziza to step down.

"... My advice to the current government is to quit power or one day the Burundian people will stand up as one and topple it as we saw happened in Arab countries," said Rwasa in an audio tape released with the statement.

Rwasa had last been heard from nearly a year ago.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment, but army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza said the Burundian army was ready to face any attack by the FNL.

Although Burundi has enjoyed relative peace since 2009, violence intensified following an opposition boycott of the 2010 election, raising fears of a new rebellion.

Rwasa, who was a presidential candidate, withdrew from the race accusing the CNDD-FDD ruling party of rigging the vote.

A Human Rights Watch report this year said scores of people had been killed in political attacks since the end of 2010 by state agents, members of the ruling party and armed opposition groups.

(Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Alison Williams)

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